UP men on long march from Rewari: ‘If virus doesn’t kill us, journey will’

Asad Rehman
up govt, up labourers, up slums, uttar pradesh coronavirus, up covid 19 lockdow, india lockdown, indian express

The group is covering the journey mostly on foot. (Express Photo)

At 4.15 pm on Friday, the third day of the country-wide lockdown, six young men carrying small backpacks walked on a near-empty Lohia Path in Lucknow. The men, coming from Rewari in Haryana, covering the 550-plus km partly in packed buses and mostly on foot, and headed for anywhere between 25 and 125 further kilometres, desperately tried to thumb a ride. But no luck.

Read| Fear and mistrust on way, at home: Migrant workers bear the brunt

“We are going to Bahraich and Barabanki—four of us live in Bahraich, the other two in Barabanki),” one of them, Pankaj Mishra, 20, from Barabanki’s Suratganj, said.

From Lucknow, Barabanki is around 25 km, and Bahraich about 125 km.

Read| 300 migrants found crammed in two trucks, thousands in a railway train

Mishra said they started walking from Rewari with 20 other migrant workers soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the countrywide lockdown on Tuesday night. “The others are walking ahead. We need to walk up to Polytechnic Chauraha (around 3.5 km). From there, we might get a bus,” Mishra said, hopeful.

Mishra works at a thread factory in Rewari for a monthly wage of Rs 7,000. “I had saved up around Rs 3,000 but most of it was spent on food for the few days before the lockdown. The factory was closed more than a week ago,” he said, his eyes bloodshot due to the fatigue.

Taking out a packet of glucose biscuits from his bag, Anil Kumar Rawat, 24, said, “What was the point in staying in Haryana? Once we reach home, we can deal with the situation. Our home must have some grain. We would have starved to death in Rewari.”

Another member of the group, Sonu Kumar, 26, said, “We were lathicharged in Haryana and Delhi. After we entered Uttar Pradesh, the policemen have helped us. In Lucknow, we were fed khichdi by some policemen and given water.”

About their journey, Sonu said, “We walked from Rewari to a bus stop. From there, we got a lift in a bus up to Delhi. We walked the entire city on foot before getting a lift up to Agra. From there, we walked to Mathura. We don’t even have enough money to buy bus tickets - anyway, bus conductors are refusing to take us.”

Agra to Mathura is a distance of around 60 km.

Rawat said, “From Mathura, we came here (Lucknow) - most of the journey has been on foot, the rest by taking lifts.”

Sonu added, “If coronavirus doesn’t kill us, this journey will. We walked most of the time. I took six painkillers - we take one after eating a whole packet of biscuit.”

Read| Hapless migrants on road, broken supply chains show glaring gaps in how Centre, states implement lockdown

Two kilometres ahead, at a police picket near Wave mall in Lucknow, a sub-inspector (name withheld on request) said, “We are trying to help them get buses. We have a carton of water pouches and some bananas...if they are hungry. But it is difficult to find buses now.”

At Polytechnic intersection, a prominent junction where buses leave for Barabanki, Basti, Ayodhya and other districts, policemen did try to get the group from Rewari get into a bus. But in vain, as the conductor raised an alarm about overcrowding.