It is the worst of times to be an emigrant within India and every passing day brings heartrending stories of how authorities are riding roughshod over them. Only recently did the government begin operating Shramik special trains to ferry those stuck in Maharashtra and other states back to their homes. But northeasterners stuck in the city have no such direct connection to take them home.
Like other workers, they too spend six to eight months of the year in the city, working in various micro-business sectors, going home for the remainder of the time. But with the imposition of the lockdown, they have been stuck in the city without resources for more than two months now. Most of them want to go back home but don't know how.
"Most of the special trains connect Mumbai with most of the country but not the northeast. There are thousands of migrant labourers and students stranded in the city during this time of distress," said Tenzing Gurung, a daily-wager from Manipur, stuck in Kandivli.
Gurung worked at a jewellery shop in Mira Road. Ever since the lockdown, his earnings have vanished and he would like to go home at this time. "There is no direct train. To go to Manipur, first we have to go to Delhi first and from there, we can only go as far as Dibrugarh in Assam. We don't have the money to undertake such multiple journeys," bemoans Gurung.
As if the pandemic, lockdown and the state of brokedom were not hardships enough, the news of the floods in Assam in the wake of Cyclone Amphan is yet another blow. Power and mobile networks have been disrupted and it is hard for them to check on their loved ones.
"We are stuck here, while our homes in Assam are under water. It has been more than three days since I have heard the voices of my family members. We are separated by thousands of kilometres from them and unable to help in any way, we mourn our losses," said Sagar Boruah, from Lakhimpur, Assam.
"For the last 50 days, we haven't earned a single rupee. We have been unable to send money to our families. At first, we thought we would make up for these losses by working on farms and taking up other jobs but now we wonder whether we will ever be able to reach or if we even have a roof left over our heads any more," worries Namit Bordoloi, an accountant from Jorhat, Assam, currently stuck in Mumbai.
Another issue that refuses to go away and has, in fact, reared its ugly head even more fiercely in the lockdown is the racial targeting of northeasterners. On April 6, a scooterist spat on a Manipuri girl in Kalina Market. Often, people hurl racist slurs at them, linking them to coronavirus and China.
"Due to the lockdown, our work stopped. I was forced to move in with a friend because I couldn't afford to pay my own rent at this time. Here, neighbours often target me over my appearance," said Jitu Tariang from Meghalaya.
"We are a group of students living together in a society. The neighbours and office-bearers of the society often visit us and and ask inappropriate questions, as though we are from China," said a student who did not wish to be named.
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