Will not leave hometown for better prospects, labourers vow

After having been voluntarily confined to a 5x8 foot room in a chawl in Dharavi for nearly three months now, Gulab Singh, 27, has silently vowed never to leave his hometown Kanpur for greener pastures elsewhere, come what may.

"I am counting days to when I will be able to get back to my home in Kanpur. I have vowed that no matter what happens, I am not going to shift to any big city again, to earn extra money" says Singh.

Singh, who worked as a waiter at a city bar and restaurant, has been without income since the lockdown was imposed, on March 25, earning Rs 20,000 a month. With overtime and by working odd jobs, he managed to earn an additional Rs 10,000 every month.

"If I could work in my hometown, it's not as if I wouldn't find anything. Perhaps I won't earn as much as I earn here, but being with family, I will be at peace. In the last three months, I have realised, money is not as important as peace and good health," Singh observes.

Ever since passenger train services resumed on June 1, Singh has tried booking tickets to his hometown, but has been unable to get a confirmed berth, as there is a huge rush. So his wait to go home continues.

Dhananjay Kumar, 33, had exhausted all his savings to get back home, to Odisha. Kumar and 30 other migrants had reserved a private bus and had to pay nearly Rs 8,000 per seat. And even at such a premium, their journey was far from comfortable, what with the scorching heat and dry winds blowing.

"Local governments have utterly failed us. We were overlooked by those in the administration. From civic officials to local government, no one helped us when we needed it the most," says Kumar.

Kumar recalls that when he and his coworkers went to the local ward office, seeking information on the registration of stranded workers, they were driven away.

"We were living in a chawl in Worli, which was a Covid-19 hotspot then. We went to the local civic office and police station, but no one was ready to hear us out," he recalls.

"We come and work for the rich, leaving our families behind. But when things went downhill, our employers left us to fend for ourselves," says Ansari Khan, 43, a migrant worker, who worked as a technician at construction sites.

The project on which Ansari was working, came to an abrupt halt on March 8. Ansari's boss asked him to make his own arrangements, informing him that the employers would not be paying for his or the workers' accommodation, since there was going to be no work thenceforth.

"I found myself responsible for myself and my five other workers, whom I had called from my hometown in Gorakhpur. The employers just shrugged off all their responsibilities," Khan narrates.

"It's we who work for them and it is only because of us labourers that they are able to run their business. After what we were put through, we are not returning to any city to work. We will stay in our villages and look out for ourselves," declares Ansari.

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