‘I left due to poverty… I am back with no money’

Abhishek Angad
Migrant workers, construction worker, coronavirus outbreak, India lockdown, COVID-19 death, indian express news

A lucky few get a bus to go back home, in Ahmedabad, March 26. (Reuters photo)

It has been two days since Sanjay Choudhary returned to his one-room kuchcha house in Jharkhand’s Garhwa district, covering a distance of 411 km from Nagpur. A construction worker earning Rs 450 for a day’s work, he left Nagpur on March 22 as the impact of COVID-19 hit. The electricity in his quarters was cut, there was no food, and even his manager went “missing”.

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While his journey back home was arduous — a six-hour train ride to Bilaspur, a night at the railway station, and finally an hour-long bus ride to his village — he is now worried about having to make ends meet for his family of six. “The first thing I checked when I reached home was our rations. We had one sack of rice, which should last two months, 2 kg daal, only enough for a few days, and a kilogram of onions,” he says, adding that only his father has a PDS card through which they get some rice.

The 1.5-bigha land on which the family grows wheat, rice and some corn usually yields little by way of earnings. So when he had to leave Nagpur without his wages for the 21 days he had worked this month, he knew it wouldn’t be easy.

In Photos| No work and food, migrants take long walk back home

“Twenty-three of us came back together. We didn’t get paid for this month. We are all now in the same condition and I don’t know whom to ask for help. Since there is a lockdown, I can’t even move out and seek help. It was poverty that forced me to leave the village, and here I am... I still have no money,” he says.

While Choudhary says his fellow villagers raised no objections to his returning home, elsewhere in the state, news about the pandemic — and the migrants coming home — has met some resistance.

Outside Kadma village, in Jharkhand’s Kanke block, a placard on a bamboo barricade warns visitors, “Kripya baahar se aane wale vyakti is gaon mein pravesh na karein (Outsiders, please do not enter this village).” Another one threatens: “Aane par lathi padega (If you come, you will be beaten with sticks).”

Ved Prakash, a resident of Kadma, says they installed the boards in the past week, even as the village went into a self-imposed lockdown. “People are scared... Earlier, we stood guard at the entrance of the village, but now everyone stays indoors. We don’t want any baahri (outsiders) to infect us.”

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Some distance away, in Balu village, barbed wires and bamboo sticks have been placed at the entrance to ward off outsiders. “The entire village supports (this barricading)... We don’t want to get infected,” says Sarfaraz Anwar, a resident.

Choudhary says he has no fever or cough yet, and is happy to be with his four children. “But I only have Rs 150... It will be over in a few days. What will I do then?”