From Delhi, exodus on foot continues: ‘All okay if I make it home’

Mallica Joshi

A migrant labourer near Noida Extension leaving Delhi on Thursday.

Some walked empty handed. Others carried backpacks and small packets of food. And a few pushed their bicycles on foot, tired of pedalling.

They all had one destination — away from Delhi.

Rishipal Yadav, 20, was among the last few to leave from Gurgaon for Badaun in Uttar Pradesh — around 250 kilometres away — at noon on Thursday. He reached the DND Flyway by 3 pm. He had made the journey from Badaun to Gurgaon just five days ago.

“We had all gone home for Holi, like every year. We had been saving since the beginning of the year and took home gifts for our parents and siblings. When we came back, there was no work. Now we have no money and no way to earn some. What will we do here? Only our family can take care of us,” said Yadav, who sells ‘Ram laddus’ in Gurgaon with his 22-year-old brother Ramniwas. The two had saved close to Rs 20,000 ahead of Holi, and spent it on their family.

They haven’t told their family that they plan to make it on foot. The one bag they carry has a change of clothes and a 750 ml water bottle. They have no food. “If we tell them, they will worry about us,” he said.

Kuldeep Kumar, 24, a tailor who resided in Okhla, is headed to Badaun on foot.

“I came back to Delhi from the village in the second week of March, after Holi. I got work for only three days after that. I gave all the money I had saved to my family for Holi and have nothing left. There is no food, and if you go out to buy something, everything is twice the price it was. They are selling aata for Rs 60 per kg. Even potatoes are unaffordable. Someone will take care of us at home,” he said, walking from Ashram towards DND Flyway.

Hundreds of men and women, mostly daily wage labourers and those employed in the unorganised sector, face hunger, insecurity and loneliness as cities across the country have gone into a lockdown. Train and bus services have been suspended. Public transport is open for only those who are employed in essential services and related industry.

With no way to get out of the city, which is almost at standstill, migrant workers have been leaving in droves — on foot.

For Keshav Singh, 40, the main aim is to get to Badarpur from East Delhi’s Kondli. He knows it is unrealistic to believe he can walk to his village, near Gwalior.

“If we can reach the border, I think we will find a way out,” he said, filled with doubt. He has carried only one bottle of water with him, along with an extra set of clothes.

“My whole family lives there. Parents, wife, children, and siblings. I work in a sweet shop here and live there too. But there is no money or food. I think everything will be fine if I can just get home,” he said.