A group of 15 young men – all migrant workers – have begun cycling from Mumbai to their village in Bihar’s Darbhanga, a journey of nearly 2,000 km. The workers say they are going ahead with the long and difficult journey as they haven’t been able to take the special trains organsied by the government for stranded migrants to travel to their home states during the lockdown.
The men set out from Mumbai’s Santa Cruz on their bicycles at 3 am today and will take several days to reach their destination, if they are not stopped at state borders. When NDTV caught up with them in Mumbai, they were a few hours into their journey.
When asked why they are not taking the special trains, one of the men said, “They have only been saying these things for a long time. They said we will be sent home after 14th. Till now, nothing has happened. We have not heard from them. It’s been 45 days.”
Abandoning caution, the men will be on streets and highways across multiple states, risking police anger, the summer heat and the possibility of running out of food. Apart from their bare belongings such as a few clothes and steel plates kept in a carrier on their cycles, all that they’re carrying for the road is some churra or dry, flattened rice. Some of them have backpacks.
They said though all of them got themselves tested for coronavirus, they haven’t received the test results.
NDTV also spotted another group of 20 people walking from Ghansoli in Navi Mumbai to their village in Buldana in Maharashtra. The group includes young children and a seven-month pregnant woman, all taking the journey by foot with little food and money.
When a countrywide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, with just four hours’ notice, tens of thousands of migrant workers were stuck in the cities where they labour as daily wagers. With their earnings cut off abruptly, many of them decided to head home. The complete unavailability of any public transport meant they had to walk, hundreds of kilometres, in some case, without food or water, occasionally carrying a child or two in their arms, to return to their villages.
Last Friday, after the ruling BJP at the centre reportedly concluded that the political backlash was building up to a worrying swell, the government announced that special trains would ferry migrant workers back home. Social distancing would be enforced through limited seating; the passengers had to be screened by officials to ensure they were not infected with coronavirus before they were allowed at stations, and upon their arrival, it was upto the receiving state government to quarantine them before they could reunite with their families.
After criticism from the opposition for making the migrants pay for their train journey, official sources said the government was already subsidising 85 per cent of the ticket fare and that it was up to the states to bear the remaining cost of the ticket.