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Migrant labourers stare at bleak future; weigh options to return home

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Jammu: Ratipal Chauhan, a migrant labourer from Uttar Pradesh, is desperate to return home as the coronavirus-driven lockdown has left him jobless and drained his savings of the past eight months.
Tens of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers from different parts of the country are putting up in various parts of Jammu region and are facing the heat of the nationwide lockdown that came into effect from March 25.
“We do not see the situation improving in the near future. It is better to be with one’s family during this hour of crisis. The lockdown has virtually pushed us to the brink of starvation,” Chauhan (28), a resident of Bardiya Lohar village of Basti district in UP, told PTI.
Chauhan, who has been working as a tile and marble setter in Jammu for over a decade, said he along with 23 others from his village are waiting for the first opportunity to return home.
“Let this phase pass off… we want to be with our families. We will work on our agricultural land for survival, which is otherwise not possible while staying hundreds of kilometers away from one’s home,” he said.
The migrant labourer also rued that no help was reaching people like him and they had to arrange meals from their own pockets.
“We had saved some money for our family and are now spending it on food for survival. We are concerned as to how long the situation will continue like this,” Chuhan said as others staying with him at a rented accommodation at Tawi Vihar Colony in Jammu nodded in agreement.
The group of skilled and unskilled labourers, including women, is paying Rs 1,700 per month as rent.
While Chauhan and his two brothers are held up in Jammu, his another brother is stranded in Bengaluru.
Rajesh, a mason by profession, said they had planned to leave for their native place on March 25, but the sudden announcement of the lockdown changed everything.
“Now the government has started inter-state transportaion of migrant labourers, we are hopeful of making it to our homes soon,” he said.
He claimed not a single penny was credited to their bank accounts or ration was supplied over the past one month.
A group of labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab had assembled outside the office of Divisional Commissioner, Jammu on Saturday to demand early evacuation to their homes.
“We are struggling hard to get one square meal in a day. Some government officials came and recorded our details several times over the past few weeks, but no help came our way,” Rajinder (60), a native of Chattisgarh, said.
He along with 150 of his fellow villagers are living in rented shanties in several plots of land in Sidhra area of Jammu.
“We will be grateful to the government if transport is made available to take us to our native places. There is no benefit in staying here under the lockdown,” Neru Lal (58), a mason and a native of Chattisgarh, said.
Lal has been visiting Jammu since 1996 for livelihood. He said the government should act immediately as the situation is driving the labourers to desperation.
“We will die of starvation if we stay here. Even if the lockdown is lifted, the situation will take a long time to get normal,” the labourer said, expressing apprehension about construction work getting started in the near future.
Another group of over 500 labourers, putting up near the railway station here, expressed their gratitude to various government agencies, NGOs and social groups for helping them to cope up with the situation.
“The government, NGOs and social groups came forward and lent their support by distributing ration kits after we raised the issue of non-availability of food. We are thankful to the government and the people of Jammu,” Naresh Kumar from Odisha said.
However, he said they are also planning to return to their homes till the situation improved.

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