Fresh wave of migration sees a large number of women, children and elderly on roads
New Delhi/Ghaziabad: Weary and exhausted, Ramavati Devi feeds her one-year-old grandson and keeps an eye on another as she waits for her son and seven-month pregnant daughter-in-law under the shade of a Metro pillar near the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal.
A Delhi Police constable drives away Devi, and many others who have gathered to cross over to Uttar Pradesh, to another border crossing a kilometer away. She moves away from the spot near a petrol pump, but not too far as she is waiting for her son.
“My daughter-in-law is seven months’ pregnant. She cannot walk any further. Both have gone to look for transport,” she said, as her eyes welled up. The family has been walking since morning, but the scorching heat is too much for them.
Devi, in her late fifties, said her son, a daily wage labourer, did not have work since the lockdown began in March. Her daughter-in-law, who worked as domestic help, too did not have job.
The family was residing at Peeragarhi in northwest Delhi, but with no money to pay rent for last two months, the landlord evicted them. They had no choice but to go back to their village in Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh.
Like Ramavati Devi, hundreds of families can be seen on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, walking back to their native towns and villages in different states. There is barely any option available as families try to hitch a ride.
After the first phase of coronavirus-forced lockdown, many migrant labourers with families stayed back, waiting for the curbs to ease so that life can return to normalcy. But with the lockdown likely to be extended, many are left with no option, but to go back to their villages.
In these two months, many exhausted their savings, so they don’t even have the option of buying a train ticket.
If the first phase of lockdown saw tens of thousands of workers going back to their hometown and villages, this phase has been witnessing an exodus of migrant labourers and their families, including young and old. Some were even seen walking with infants and heavy bags on their heads.
Fifty-meters from Rama Devi is Shivshankar Yadav (27) with his wife Aarti (25) and two daughters, Anshi (3) and Priyanshi (2).
A weaver working at a garment factory, Yadav has not been paid for the past two months.
“The government provided food, but what about milk. There is no money left even to buy milk,” Yadav said. All the money he has saved is now over, leaving him no option but to go back to his village in Sultanpur.
Yadav said he took rest under a Metro pillar as his wife and two children were exhausted due to heat.
“I am looking for a vehicle to go back home. We can pay them after we reach home,” Yadav said.
Same is the case with Jang Bahadur, a road driller, who is going back to his village in Allahabad, with his wife Urmila and three children aged Himanshu (12), Nandini (9) and Sudanshu (7).
All his three children study in a government school in Nangloi in northwest Delhi.
“What do we do? There is no money left and my husband has not been paid for the past two months,” Urmila said as she walked with her eldest son Himanshu, while Bahadur was nudging his two other children to walk fast as they trudge due to exhaustion.
Urmila said the landlord asked them to vacate the house.
The family, along with Bahadur’s friends and his brother, started from Rithala at 3 a.m.
“We got a tempo from Rithala. He was to drop us at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, but then the police intercepted the vehicle. They bashed up the driver and asked him to drop us at the point where we were picked up from. But he then dropped us 5-6 kilometers away from the border,” Mahesh, who is a part of the group, said.
Suraj Baghel (50) and her 52-year-old husband are also making a journey back to Baloda Bazaar in Chhattisgarh.
Daily wagers at a construction site, the couple have not been paid for the last two months. “They contractor fled. We don’t have any money. If we go back, we can at least survive on what we can grow in our field,” said a tired Baghel.
Baghel walked for hours with a heavy bag on her head. Her slipper too was broken, but she had tied it with a rope.
The couple somehow managed for two months, but not anymore. She sent her savings to her two school-going daughters back in her village.
But with no money left, the couple is going back, clueless about how will they reach their home.