Lockdown deaths: Of those who never reached home
New Delhi: As the government readied trains to transport migrant workers to their homes in distant corners, Dharamveer and Tabarat Mansoor gave up on the battle of life, one collapsing while cycling from Delhi to Bihar and the other as he headed from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh.
Sheer fatigue felled them both, as it did so many other stranded migrants who set off for home, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres away, desperate to be with their families in the prolonged lockdown that left them with no money, no jobs and no roof over their heads.
Home beckoned. But they never did get there.
Some bought cycles with their little savings and others just set off on the long walk, in shoes with paper thin soles or flip flops, their few belongings packed into backpacks or unwieldy bundles.
On Friday night, the first special train ferrying over 1,200 stranded migrants from Telangana reached Hatia in Jharkhand from where the state government took them to their respective districts in sanitised buses in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.
Sometime around then, 32-year-old Dharamveer was declared brought dead at a hospital in Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. He began cycling, along with other labourers like him, from Delhi to Khagaria in Bihar, about 1,200 km away, on April 28, police said.
“On Friday night, they halted at the Delhi-Lucknow highway in Shahjahanpur. When Dharamveer’s condition deteriorated, the labourers took him to the medical college where he was declared brought dead,” Circle Officer (city) Praveen Kumar said.
The day before, 50-year-old Tabarat died in Sendhwa in Madhya Pradesh after cycling over 390 kilometres to get home from Bhiwandi in Maharashtra to Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh, about 1,600 km away.
“He died on Thursday near Sendhwa in Barwani possibly due to fatigue and heart attack,” said Ramesh Pawar who was with him.
Recapping the arduous journey, he said the group of 11 had left on their cycles on April 25 to get to Maharajganj.
Those accompanying him wanted to take his body to Maharajganj but police did not give permission given the ongoing lockdown restrictions and he was buried in Sendhwa, his desire to go home unfulfilled.
As lakhs of daily wagers and other migrants undertook epic journeys to reach home — walking, cycling and hitching rides when they could — in the absence of any public transport, the outskirts of many cities like Delhi and Mumbai teemed with people.
The nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25, was first extended till May 3 and then on Friday till May 17 with a few relaxations built in. The unprecedented move to stem the spread of COVID-19 triggered possibly the biggest movement of people since Partition.
Some made it, some are still on their way and some just gave up somewhere in between, their stamina unable to keep pace with their will to get to their families. Their tragedies found wide echo across India.
Twelve-year-old Jamlo Kadam, who was making a 150-km trip on foot from Telangana where she worked in a chilli farm to Bijapur in Chhattisgarh, was one of the youngest victims.
She started walking on April 15 and died tantalisingly close to her village on the morning of April 18, an official told PTI.
“The distance between the place in Telangana where she worked and Bijapur is 150 kilometres and she died some 50 kilometres away from her village.”
“Her samples tested negative for coronavirus and she may have died due to electrolyte imbalance,” a health official added.
Insaf Ali, 35, was even closer. He reached his village in Uttar Pradesh’s Shravasti district but did not make it home.
Ali walked or hitched 1,500 km from Mumbai to Shravast, the Indian Express reported. He worked as a helper to a mason in Mumbai before the lockdown and reached Mathkanwa village where he was quarantined early on Monday morning this week. By noon, he was dead.
The media recorded several such stories, of workers desperate to be with their families in the uncertain days of a pandemic but dying before they reached their destination.