On Tuesday, the Solicitor General, on behalf of the Centre, told the Supreme Court: “As of 11 am this morning, no one (migrant worker) is on the road. They have been taken to the nearest available shelters. An hour later, News18 found a worker who had made his way on foot from Agra all the way to Delhi, a distance of around 200 km.
Deepak had walked for over three days to reach his anxious family in Shalimar Garden - his pregnant wife, one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and his ailing mother. On the very day he reached Delhi, he said he saw "between five to six hundred people" walking on the highway. In the following few paragraphs Deepak talks about his journey, the difficulties he faced and the helped he received from people.
I am a driver by profession. A few days ago I had gone to Agra to drop a client. After the lockdown was announced my family started getting worried. My wife and I are expecting our second child soon and my mother has been keeping ill. I also have a daughter. There was no one else to look after them. I had no option but to go home. I could not wait for three weeks. So it was on March 28th when I started my journey in the evening.
There were a lot of people. Must have been in thousands. Even at night. There were men, women and children walking through the night. People used to sleep wherever they found space. Usually it used to be around petrol pumps because a lot of them have toilets.
When I left Agra I did not know how difficult the journey was going to be. I thought I would reach Delhi within 3-4 hours. I did not know my struggle would continue for three days. After I started from Agra, I must have walked for around 30 km when, sometime before sunrise, I decided to take rest. There were hundreds of other people at the petrol pump where I slept.
In the morning everyone got fresh and started forward. One of the most striking thing about the foot journey was that there was almost no government help. In fact the only representatives of government we saw were policemen who were beating up people, swinging their lathis at whoever they saw. They refused to hear us and let people like me pass by. So many of us had to walk through fields and villages to hide from policemen manning the barricades on highways.
But out on the roads there was a lot of community support. People were running langars and bhandaras. Individuals had lined up along the highway. Some were distributing cooked food, some were distributing water, some fruits. These people had taken great pains to drive long distances, risking their own lives, in trying to help perfect strangers. It is thanks to these people that people like us did not die on the highways. Otherwise, without any food or water and in this heat, hundreds or thousands would have perished and nobody would have had a clue.
I walked all day on the 29th. Possibly another 30 to 40 km. Everyone on foot was in a very desperate situation. There were families walking also, some with three-four children. How many could they carry at a time? I saw three-year-old children walking on foot on the highway. It is a very disheartening sight - of toddlers walking for miles in the hot sun. That child reminded me of my daughter. If we were in a similar state, forced to walk all day with our young children, I wondered how we would have coped.
One's heart goes out to these children but there is little that you can do. All that you can do is think about your family. The family that really needed you by their side at these moments. After all that's why these people were walking on endless roads for days and days together. They wanted to be with each other, with their families, at the time of such a crisis. Everyone was seeing only their home.
One sight I'll probably never forget is of a man pulling a rickshaw on the highway with his wife and two children seated at the back. He was going to his village in Bihar. That is over 1,000 km! Imagine the desperation of that family. People were moving in directions - Kolkata, Kanpur, Patna, everywhere. Some vehicles were moving on the roads. It was mostly local traffic. Some cars or motorcycles would stop by to give a lift. But most sped away. They were clearly scared of us. As if we were ghosts. Corona ghosts. That night I slept early.
The following day I did not cover much distance. The thing is, if you walk for two days continuously, the heat that collects on your feet causes blisters. Some were walking in chappals, which causes blisters too early. The more you walk, the more these blisters hurt. So you cannot walk for long stretches without a break, no matter how desperate you are. I was in touch with my family on the phone. They were getting quite anxious but they did not let the anxiety show on phone.
They would only ask me to be safe. But I knew they were worrying about me and about themselves, if I were not able to make it. If I were stopped or detained by police somewhere till the end of the lockdown. So on the 30th, I ended up walking around 20 kms. My legs had started giving way, so I stopped near Hodal. But the pain was offset by the feeling of having reached close to my home. This was the first time since I had left Agra that I could feel that I was going to make it after all.
On the 31st, I started from Hodal in the morning. When I reached Delhi I was chased by the police. They wouldn't listen to what I was saying. They just kept beating me. I was beaten up after that at Ghazipur and again at Anand Vihar. But somehow I made it till GTB hospital where I got myself checked, after which I reached home. I know that in the time of lockdown I may not be able to do much for my family but we know that we're together now, and that it is enough for us to see this crisis through.