Bhopal: The May sky was pouring down blaze. The roads were thawing. Thousands of migrant workers set out of their places of work to reach their hometowns in different states across the country. As the coronavirus was gobbling up millions of lives across the world, the country was put under lockdown to check the creepy virus. The lockdown rendered thousands of migrant workers jobless.
Most of the workers were walking. They were carrying bag and baggage on their heads. Children clung to their mothers. The sights were similar to the ones described in ‘A Train to Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. A few were on cycles. Twenty-two-year-old Sunil, who left Mumbai for Seoni in Madhya Pradesh, was one of them. As there was no work in Mumbai, Sunil decided to leave for his hometown. He planned to get back to his farmlands with a plough.
All buses, trains and other vehicles were off the roads. At daybreak on May 7, he left the Mata Ramai Nagar slums in Mumbai along with his friends. On his journey went without food, without water. The fiery sun was above his head. The melting road was under his feet. It continued for three days. His shoes were torn. His tired feet swelled up. A group of social workers offered him a packet of food and a bottle of water.
Sunil continued to wobble. He says he took rest in the day and walked in the night.
No sooner had Sunil crossed the borders of Chhattisgarh, his shoes were not wearable. A few social workers offered him a pair of chappals and some food. He was not able to speak.
As soon as he reached the borders of Madhya Pradesh, his heart leapt up in joy. He thought his arduous journey would soon end. Yet, that was not to be. Just as Sunil neared his village, policemen shooed him away. The cops beat him up because they thought Sunil might spread the disease to others, since he was coming from Mumbai. Sunil says he was in tears. His Herculean efforts to reach his hometown came to naught.
He took shelter in a settlement in a nearby village. And he returned to Mumbai by a bus arranged by the government of Madhya Pradesh. That left him on the borders of Maharashtra. From there, he had to walk back to his aunt’s house. His aunt, Usha, who also works on daily wages, lives in the Tatanagar slums in Navi Mumbai. She, too, had lost her job. But she stayed back there. Usha says her nephew was not even allowed to enter the village. She says the parents of Sunil were waiting for his return, but that did not happen.
Sunil was not alone. There were many migrant workers whose attempt to return to their villages ended half-way. Usha hails from Seoni. She did not return to her hometown thinking the lockdown would soon end and all of them would return to work. But that was out of the question. The lockdown was extended again and again.
The story that Usha rattled off about Sunil could make anyone cry. Sunil returned to her aunt’s settlement on a sweaty evening. His clothes were shredded. His feet had developed swelling. Sunil was half-dead. Tears trickled down the cheeks of Usha and Puneet, as Sunil reeled off his tale of woes. Now, Sunil is back to work. He says there should not be another lockdown.