Migrant workers recount travel narratives
Every day we hear more heart-breaking stories of migrant workers on the road, trying to make it home at any cost. We spoke to a few such individuals who have attempted to make the journey home. We are publishing their account with their verbal consent. Identities have been masked to maintain confidentiality.
Tarun’s three and a half day journey from Nalasopara (Maharashtra) to Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh) by truck
I am a carpenter by profession, working at Vidyavihar (Mumbai)and living in Nalasopara (Vasai-Virar)with my wife and infant daughter. I have been working in the city for 10 years. Our son lives in our village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh with my parents. On a typical day, I leave home for work at 7 am and return home around midnight.
Due to the lock down, our work stopped on 22 March 2020. Everyone around us slowly started leaving for their villages. Somehow I managed to borrow money to gather enough for our travel home via a truck.
We were told that 35 persons would be travelling together, but when we boarded the vehicle we realised that it was nearer 50 people.
On board the truck it was mostly men. There were only three women, my one-and-a-half-year-old infant daughter and a 10-year-old child.
It was supposed to take us three days to reach home via Indore and Allahabad, but the truck broke down many times and this extended our journey by another 12 hours. Once the clutch stopped working, another time we ran out of diesel, and yet another time the truck refused to move forward. We also lost the way for a while one night. No one stopped us on the way, but there was some traffic congestion every now and then, especially near highway toll plazas, where we sometimes waited for up to two and a half hours to pass through.
It was really uncomfortable inside the truck. The plastic covering on top made it extremely sultry and the heat was unbearable. If there was any breeze, it was a hot wind. My wife and I were really worried for my daughter. We would fan her occasionally with a small hand fan we were carrying.
Whenever we stopped at a hotel for food, they drove us away.
For three days, all we survived on was a few sips of water every now and then.
Our source of water were places where the groundwater sources looked clean. We filled up our bottles there. For my daughter, we fed her a little bit of powdered milk which we had, and a few biscuits.
We had left on Sunday at 2 pm, and we reached Jaunpur on Wednesday night. There were two drivers and they drove non-stop. We knew the journey would be from highway to highway. My father had arranged for transport for the last leg of the journey, about 6–7 km from the highway to our village. He came to receive us and we returned home in autorickshaws.
There are thousands from Jaunpur who work in and around Mumbai. Everyday more people are coming back to the village. 15–20 cars, trucks, and bikes full of migrant workers arrive here daily. Some of my relatives are also still stuck in Mumbai. They have filled up the form to travel home via train, but not received a response yet.
Currently we are living in the field next to our house, to distance ourselves from the rest of the family for some time. We take shelter under a mango tree. My parents are cooking and sending us the food. They told us to rest it out for a few days. The weather is unpredictable, there are some occasional storms but we are managing.
The situation in the village is also very grim. No one is able to find work. People here know that a disease has caused all this, but I don’t know to what extent they have understood the crisis. They are just trying to get by.
The markets are shut. Ration shops are closed too. I have not heard of people finding work through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA), everything is shut.
We do not have any farmland. All we have is a house of our own. We are surviving on the rice and dal (pulses) my family had saved from before.
We earn daily-wages and that’s what helps us buy food to eat. We will have to go back to Mumbai when the situation improves. There is no work opportunity here. We’ve locked up our meagre possessions in the city and come home. We have to keep paying the rent in the city too. We will go back and earn to pay it back.
Rani, Tarun’s wife says: I’m happy to be away from Mumbai. The rent would have kept rising there, and anyway we had no food to eat. The journey was very painful. We had to leave suddenly and had no food for the long travel home. Not having access to a toilet increased our problems. ‘Agar Mumbai mein ghoomna phirna hota that toh yaad aata, lekin lockdown ne toh dimaag mein hi lock laga diya’ (If I was able to roam around and enjoy Mumbai I would have remembered the city differently, but the lockdown just weighed in on our minds)
Asif’s attempt to travel home
I live in Virar, Maharashtra, with two of the brothers, and my sister-in-law. My hometown is in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, where my mother and wife live. We were trying to go home recently on one of the trucks but it was over-booked, and the police turned us back. Thankfully, we were repaid the fare of Rs 3,000 that we had paid for this journey, the only money I had with me at the time.
I would like to return home. But the problem is also that I have a lot of material in my rented house here. I had just begun a fruit juice selling business and brought a fridge, juice mixer and other materials for it. A month into this, the lockdown was imposed. If my brother finds employment, maybe we will all try to stay back. If we all move, I don’t know what will happen to all these materials and all my investments may just be ruined.
I am heavily in debt already, at least amounting to Rs 50,000. I had loaned Rs 15,000 from different sources for my business. In the past year, I also got married and had loaned another 15,000 for the expenses. I am so worried, I am unable to sleep at night. We’ve just been sitting at home for the past 2 months, and struggling to eat. We’ve not received ration from anywhere so far. We’re getting into more debt daily, just to find some food to eat. Atleast in the village we would have access to some foodgrains, but we need to buy every food item here and it is increasingly becoming more challenging.
It will be better if we can find a train home. I have completed the online application, but not received a response yet. From another source I got to know that if I can submit a list of 70 people, perhaps we will find a train home, but so far I only have some 20 names with me.
In the meantime, we are having to pay rent for our house here. The landlord already has Rs 15,000 deposit and the monthly rent is Rs 4,500. That covers about three months, but after that we don’t know what to do.
These accounts tell us about the individual lives of workers who struggle to make ends meet in the city and send remittances back home to ensure survival of their immediate and extended families. Leading factors driving them out of the city now is their inability to secure basic food, followed by home rent they need to pay in the informal settlements they live in. While they plan to leave the city, their fears are common — Will they be allowed to resume work anytime soon? Will their landlords keep their hard-earned items in their homes while they default on paying rents they can no longer afford? How long will it be before they can return to the city — the only source of income they know.