It is 11:45 AM and the temperature is soaring above 40 degrees when Mallikarjuna sees a group of 15 people approaching towards him on bicycles.
Mallikarjuna, a regional director at Rural Development Trust (RDT), and his team have set-up a small post besides the Bangalore-Hyderabad Highway to provide basic provisions to migrant workers, who are traversing on roads all across the country.
“We left Bangalore two days ago and we are heading towards Uttar Pradesh,” explains Govinda, one of them while taking some refreshments. All of them worked in restaurants, hotels and as cleaning staff in Bangalore but when the lockdown started, on 25th March, they stopped and with it their salary and source of survival. “The situation in Bangalore was very bad for us, so we got together and bought second-hand bicycles,” he explains.
“We cycle during the day because we have no lights but nights are not safe either. The other day a group of people beat us up while sleeping because they said we were in their property. That made me feel very bad,” confesses Govinda. However, during their journey the generosity of the people that they meet helps them overcome the sadness. “We are able to continue this journey thanks to the people of the nearby villages who offer us food,” he adds.
They hope to reach Uttar Pradesh in 20 days and they are reluctant to ask for help. “They do not trust anybody. What they are going though it is upsetting,” adds Mallikarjuna.
When Govinda is asked why he decided to start this journey and not wait, the reply comes instantly: “If I die I want to die in my village, with my family. Then I will be happy.”
The situation repeats itself in other points of this national highway. Different locations, different destinations, different names but the same desire: to reach home and be with their families.
“It is especially tough for the women. They are not only carrying all their belongings with them but also small children,” says Rameshwary, RDT Regional Director of Madaksira. “The other day, on the way to my office I saw a lady carrying a one year old boy and a three year old girl in her arms and walking next to her a 5 year old boy. None of them were wearing shoes and especially the woman looked extremely exhausted, about to faint. The husband was way ahead carrying the luggage. I stopped the car immediately,” Rameshwary explains.
Shantama, name changed to protect her identity, and her family were part of a group of 75 people, who after days of not being paid by their contractor, decided to start their way back home from Madakasira to Aadhanki mandal in Prakasam district, 435 KMs away . “I brought her and her family to my office; I got them shoes and food. We found the rest of the group and I immediately got in touch with the police who agreed to arrange their journey back home.”
While the arrangements were being made, which took 3 days, the whole group stayed at a Government school and RDT provided them with cooked meals.“The Government arranged their transport and conducted COVID-19 testsing for them, all of which were negative,” she adds.
“Before leaving Shantama told me something that gave meaning to all the suffering that we are witnessing these days ‘Many people saw me but no one stopped to help, except you. We, women, are for the immediate action, thank you for caring for me’”.
“We come across groups of migrants on a daily basis, we provide them with food and inform them about the possibilities that the Government has arranged for them to go back home. We are constantly in touch with the Mandal Revenue Offices but more than anything it is important to treat them with the dignity and respect that any person deserves, ” she states.
RDT is supplementing Government´s efforts to facilitate the return of all such people wishing to go back home. During this complex situation the authorities and Government officials are doing their best to ensure some transport for all those willing to go back to their homes.
“Yesterday we got a request from the District Authorities to make 5,000 chapatis and 1,500 packets of aloo chole for a group who were travelling back to Uttar Pradesh by the Shramik Special train. Today 750 people are leaving to Patna and we have to prepare provisions for them as well,” explains Visha Ferrer, Director of Women Empowerment and co-ordinator of the food distribution programme. She immediately adds, “we are glad to be able to play a role in tackling this crisis.”
“My brother and I were working in a printing factory in Hindupur. Since the lockdown, it has been a struggle to feed ourselves and our family,” says Deepak, 33, who is travelling back with 7 members, 2 of whom are children below 5 years. “Some NGO, individuals, local authorities kept distributing meals and provisions. That is how we have mainly managed. I am happy to be going back home,” he says with a faint smile.
Currently we are witnessing an unprecedented healthcare crisis which has left millions of people in distress, those very people who are key to building our societies through their hardwork and service. We are continuously supporting the Government’s efforts in providing relief. Help us to reach out to all those severely affected during this pandemic.
Donate now: https://rdtfvf.org/donate/
Text: Felita Viegas and Aina Valldaura