A journey of thousand miles — without money, food and in fear of police

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BY ANAND SINGH
New Delhi, May 13 (IANS)
“We have not received food or ration for the last one month. Now the police is beating us as we are going back to our homes. Even Nitish Kumar (Bihar Chief Minister) has not done anything for us,” said a tearful Basanti, a resident of Bihar’s Motihari as she started her journey to her native place from the national capital on Wednesday along with a group of about 30 people.
They have already exhausted all their money and food as the nationwide lockdown due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic outbreak inched towards Day 50.
Their journey on foot started on Wednesday from the national capital as they were unable to afford the rail tickets for the special air-conditioned trains announced by the Railway Ministry.
Basanti is trudging along with a group hailing from Bihar’s Araria and Motihari — 1,200 km away. They hope to cover it in 20 days. IANS met them at the Vikas Marg, which connects Delhi’s Income Tax Office (ITO) area and Laxmi Nagar. Basanti, in her late 40s, said, “What will we do here? We have not got any ration or food from the government and even (Bihar CM) Nitish Kumar has not done anything for us.”
She alleged she was beaten up by the police at a check post, but she along with others managed to walk on. She said, “I will walk to my home in Motihari even if I don’t get any transport.”
“I will keep walking and rest on the way,” she said.
Basanti worked as a daily wager at a construction site in the national capital.
“I am going to Bihar as I don’t have any roof over my head. I cannot book a ticket from my phone because it is not a smartphone,” said Mohammad Masoom, a resident of Araria. He said the government only thinks about the rich and not the poor. That’s why they have started booking online ticket of Rajdhani trains,” he said.
He said the group spent at least three days outside the New Delhi railway station to try their luck to board a Shramik Special train, which started to transport the stranded migrant workers from May 1. But they were not lucky.
Soon after the group started off from Vikas Marg, it was again stopped by Delhi Police personnel. But they walked on, ignoring the police which asked them to stop. Meanwhile, on the Delhi-Noida road, there were over 100 migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi and Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar and Chhatarpur districts who started to walk to their native place along with their belongings.
This group has over a dozen small children, being carried on the shoulder or the bicycle seat. Poona Devi, a resident of Sagar, who tied her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter to her back with the help of a cotton towel, told IANS: “We are going back to Sagar as we have no means to buy food or pay the rent of the room where we were staying.” Since the lockdown was announced, her husband has not been able to get any work and all their saving is already gone.
Madhu, another migrant holding her daughter in her arms, said they don’t have money and that they have no option but to leave for their native place. “I am going to Jhansi and it will take me about 10 days to reach my home on foot,” she said. Isn’t she worried about the harsh sun? “My husband has no job. Back home we will face problems, but I cannot leave my children here,” she said.
Will she walk it? “There are no buses or any other vehicles, so we have no other option.” She has one more child, about four years, who too walks along with his mother and her group.
“I am going to Jhansi and carrying my child on my bicycle,” said Rajkumar Pal, who is also travelling along with the group. Did he or his family get food from the Delhi government? “Since the beginning of the lockdown, we have not got any help from the government. We lived near Karkardooma court area,” Pal said.
In the last two months, thousands of migrant workers stranded at several parts of the country have started walking back to their native places. Many of them have hitch-hiked on trucks or have peddled their bicycles.
Many among them have died, unable to cope with the harsh sun and in the absence of food. Last week, 16 migrant workers were run over near Maharashtra’s Aurangabad by a goods train after the exhausted migrants fell asleep on the railway tracks.
The railways has been running Shramik Specials to transport migrant workers, students, pilgrims and tourists since May 1. To date, it has transported over 6.7 lakh people by 607 Shramik Specials.

(Anand Singh can be contacted at anand.s@ians.in)