Migrant workers desperate to get home run into a wall of cops in Mumbai

Chaos & confusion reign over Mumbai streets

Politics

May 6, 2020

/ By and / Mumbai



migrant workers in mumbai

Rangilal Chauhan and Jayprakash Gupta, carpenters working in Mumbai, say they are determined to get back to their village in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

With little clarity on trains being run at long last to take millions of migrant workers stuck all over India, thousands in Mumbai decide to hit the road.

Monday night saw hundreds of migrant workers play cat and mouse games with the police on the key arterial roads leading out of Mumbai as desperate workers decided not to wait any longer for the government help in getting home and instead take matters in their own hands and walk the hundreds of kilometres that have separated them from their loved ones in midst of the unprecedented uncertainty following the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in the country.

For the past several days, groups of migrants could be seen walking, carrying their precious few belongings either in their rucksack on their shoulders or in a bag on their heads. However, on Monday, the trickle had become a flood as hundreds of migrants hit the road in order to get back home, having given up all hopes of the government coming to their rescue, even seven weeks after the lockdown was imposed. The workers were clearly very agitated over the government’s apathy towards their plight and the absence of any tangible move to help the workers get back home. The workers said that clearly the government’s priorities were misplaced.

‘‘They should have started trains and buses but instead they have opened liquor shops. Was there a need to open liquor shops now?’’ asks Rangilal Chauhan, a daily wager from Mumbai.

While the migrants were trying to get back home, teams of Mumbai police were ‘following orders’ to push the migrants back and not allow them to continue on their path. ‘‘We are all from the same village in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. We are about 50 and work as construction workers at Chandivali (a western suburb of Mumbai). We have been stopped by the police here and told to go back wherever we came from. So, now we have no option but to go back to Santa Cruz where we were staying,’’ says Chhotelal, another migrant who used to work at a construction site.

migrant workers in mumbai

This group of about 50 migrant workers from Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh were forced to turn back by police at Vikhroli, in north-eastern Mumbai on Monday night

All along the expressway, small teams of police could be seen trying to persuade the migrant workers to go back and not continue walking. ‘‘We have been instructed to ensure that the workers don`t leave Mumbai on foot. So, we are trying to persuade them, highlighting the dangers of trying to walk so far away on foot. There have been several accidents already. Also, we are trying to help the workers by telling them how they can register themselves in order to be allowed on board the special trains that the government will be running for them,’’ says a senior sub-inspector who was leading barely a handful of policemen, near Vikhroli, on the expressway.

But the migrant workers say that they have already been through the rigmarole. ‘‘So far, we had been waiting for the lockdown to end. But when they kept on extending it without any clarity about when it would end, we decided to move to our native village in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The police officials there told us that we needed to get our papers ready in order to be able to board the special trains. So, everyday, for nearly a week joined the very long queues outside the police station, but was difficult and took a week as we never managed to get it as the office would shut before our turn came. Finally, we had the paper and then the police said that the trains would be run only to six states and UP was not one of them. So, today we decided to walk all the way home. We have been continuously stopped by officials but each time we managed to get away. What are we supposed to do? We cannot stay in Mumbai anymore as we need money to survive,’’ says Ajay Kumar, a carpenter from Gorakhpur, who was trying to leave Mumbai along with dozens of others from the same district.

Copy of the medical certificate showing that the holder is not suffering from covid-19

But even the policemen lacked conviction or clear information that could reassure the migrants that even if belatedly, the government was finally serious about tackling their plight and organise special transport to take them home. ‘‘We are not even sure of trains. We have our transport forms with us and have been for medical check-ups too. In addition, we have already submitted our Aadhar cards and medical certificates. But now they say the medical reports are not valid and want our photographs on that,’’ adds Kumar.

‘‘The police doesn’t want us to leave, but are they going to provide us with food and shelter?’’ Chauhan poignantly asks.

Off the record, the policemen agree that the government has failed to provide any relief to the migrant workers. ‘‘We understand the problems of the migrants but we are helpless too. Why don`t you guys ask the government to make some arrangements for them? Even we don’t like turning them away every single time,’’ says a policeman in mufti.

But clearly the message from the streets is not reaching the powers that be. It’s indeed a shame that a country that boasts the world’s largest railway network and a government that claims to have data on all the poor people has been unable to organise adequate number of trains to take the millions of workers who are still stranded seven weeks into the lockdown. Tuesdays order of Karnataka government cancelling the special trains for migrants to go back home from the state is a clear pointer to the apathy towards the migrant workers.

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