Mumbai: Migrant workers stuck in the city find themselves caught in an unending vortex of misery. First, the lockdown struck without warning and they found themselves marooned, battling the elements and the most monstrous of them all -- the coronavirus. When authorities finally deigned to take heed of their plight and announced the operation of special buses and trains to get them back home safely, nature struck another blow for those returning to Odisha and West Bengal in the form of Cyclone Amphan.
All the Shramik special trains bound for these states have been cancelled. In Maharashtra, there are more than two lakh migrant workers from Bengal and Odisha, anxious to return home. For decades, in what has been an annual ritual for these workers, they come to work in Maharashtra for six months as they need the extra income, after which they return to their farming work at home.
The lockdown swallowed their livelihoods in Mumbai and, at the other end, Amphan has reduced to naught their houses, laid waste their fields and left their families bereft in its wake. They are now consumed by panic and fear.
"We have been living in misery for the last two months, in the fond hope that some day we would be able to go home. But since the storm broke out, I learnt that my house is gone. A part of our mud dwelling caved in as the storm raged," construction worker Ratan Das told The Free Press Journal. Das is among those who toil in Mumbai for six months and returns to his home state for the remainder of the year, where he toils in his farm.
"Trains have been cancelled untill May 21 and there is no news of when services will resume. The police in Mumbai have no answer and we cannot contact anyone in West Bengal, as phone lines are out over there" said Salim Mondal, another labourer.
Most of workers have lost properties in Bengal and Odisha due to the cyclone. It has flattened standing crops and destroyed paddy fields. "This year, we have only worked for two months and were paid for that time. Since March, there has been a complete lockdown and we have not been able to send any money home. Farming is our alternative profession but now the crops too are destroyed. I don't know how we will sustain," said Rabi Mal, a worker from Odisha.
"In the lock down. We suffered huge losses. The little hope we had has been snuffed out by the cyclone. Now, we have no hope left. None of the governments are also saying anything" lamented Komal Barik, who works as an artisan in Mumbai for six months every year and then goes back to plough his paddy fields after monsoon. Since the labourers received a notification that the trains have been suspended, some of them began walking home. However, they were tracked by the Mumbai Police and packed off to their camps.
"As many as 27 of us hailing from Odisha and West Bengal started walking from Govandi the day we got news about the cancellation of trains. But a group of police officers saw us and sent us back," recounted a dismayed Arun Tiru, a daily-wage earner.
"The police also gave us a stern warning, not to leave the camps and go out in large numbers," Tiru added. The incident of workers gathering at Bandra Terminus has made them fearful. On the one hand, there is the cyclone in the east; and, on this side, the novel coronavirus pandemic is ripping through. Hope is but a distant dream.