Coronavirus lockdown: Running out of food, no money left, say stranded migrants from Bengal

Ravik Bhattacharya
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Many of these migrants, who put up in cramped accommodations, work as construction labourers or hawkers in states like Haryana and Rajasthan. (File Photo)

Stranded away from their homes with no aid on the horizon, migrant workers from West Bengal are fast running out of money and food as the nationwide lockdown enters its third day. Many of these migrants, who put up in cramped accommodations, work as construction labourers or hawkers in states like Haryana and Rajasthan.

The Indian Express reached out to several workers in these two states who—caught unprepared by the announcement of a 21-day lockdown for “fighting some disease”—are looking for a way out, and finding none.

Even venturing out to the market or highway earns them the wrath of the police, Sheikh Moidul, from Kaliachowk in Malda, said over the phone. Moidul, 30, is part of a group 50 construction workers, including 16 women, which is stranded in Rewari district of Haryana. They used to earn a daily wage of Rs 350 along with food for building a warehouse in the district. The group stays in a makeshift colony with small rooms and two toilets near the construction site.

“Our rice and potato will only last two days. We cannot go to the market which is about 2 kms from here. Whenever we go to the highway, the policemen are beating us with batons. One of our youths who went to the police to ask him to allow us was lathi-charged,” said Moidul.

Thirty-eight year old Muhammed Shahbaz, from Mothabari in Malda, is among those in the group. He works as a supervisor in Rewari and earns Rs 15,000 a month. “I was a civic volunteer in the district. But the money was not enough to run a family. So I got this job. Now I am regretting. I am yet to get my salary. We don’t know what we will eat after two days. We don’t know whether we will survive this lockdown,” said Shahbaz.

It is a similar story in Rajasthan’s Sikar district, where there are nearly 80 Bengali migrants living in different groups. Many of them go door to door selling plastic goods, earning up to 600 everyday.

Mohammed Habibul Sheikh, 35, a resident of Syedpur in Malda, says he is part of a group of 20 which is crammed into around five 10-by-10 ft rooms.

“We managed to get a bag of rice after begging a local. We have promised to pay him. We also have around two kgs of potatoes left with us. We are about 20 people here. How long do you think that will last,” asked the father of five.

“We did not know that shut down will start from Sunday, so we used the money we had in buying the plastic items and thought that we will start work from Monday. But now we have no cash in hand. Prices of items are doubled or tripled in the local market.,” said 42-year-old Muhammed Ajem a resident of Kaliachowk who went to Rajasthan as recently as March 21.