Anticipating prolonged lockdown, migrant workers flee again in repeat of 2020

Anand Vihar Inter State Bus Terminal: A year later, same place, same people & same reason

Society

April 20, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

As soon as Delhi government announced a weekend curfew last week, thousands of migrant workers from the national capital packed their bags and began fleeing back to their hometowns, fearing a repeat of last year’s events when they were forced to walk back home as all transport links were abruptly cut.

After barely a year, the haunting images are back from various metropolises across the country. Thousands of migrants, carrying their meagre household goods, rushing to the nearest railway station or bus stand, like the Inter State Bus Terminus at Anand Vihar, in East Delhi,  to get back to their villages, fearing a repeat of last year when they were left stranded without any income or even food after Prime Minister Narendra announced a complete nationwide lockdown, giving people barely four hours to sort their lives out.

In 2021, even though Modi has not yet announced any lockdown, migrants are afraid as several states have already imposed a lockdown but without calling it so. Though the lockdown hit the entire nation and pushed the economy into its worst-ever performance since independence, the brunt of the impact was borne by migrant workers who were left to fend for themselves and their families as the government abandoned the most vulnerable sections of the society and pretended all was well. With no jobs, no money, no place to stay and with a total shutdown of all public transport, millions of migrant workers had little choice but to walk all the way home, often hundreds of kilometres away.

And almost a year later, down to the month, a similar scenario is being repeated all over the country, including in the national capital Delhi, after chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a weeklong lockdown to tackle the second surge of Covid-19 that has struck much harder than the first one. Despite an appeal from Kejriwal, who said that the lockdown would be limited only to six days and that migrants need not leave the capital, they were not taking any chances with the politicians and their assurances, wanting to avoid the trap into which they had fallen last year by believing the Modi about the lockdown being only 21-day long.

“I appeal to you with folded hands. It’s a small lockdown, only for six days. Don’t leave Delhi and go. I’m very hopeful that we won’t need to further extend the lockdown and the government will take care of you,” Kejriwal announced in a televised address.

However, his statements did not find many takers. Krishna, a migrant worker from Allahabad was one among the many migrant workers who packed their bags to leave Delhi and head hometown. Krishna who used to live in Wazirpur, Delhi, says he doesn’t know when he will be back. “Even if the lockdown ends in a week, I will not come back. I might come back in a month or two. Now my family again has to take the burden to feed one extra mouth. What can I do now if I don’t have any work? We know that the government will never do anything for us and we don’t even expect anything now” Krishna tells Media India Group.

Though Krishna was leaving on Tuesday, transporters say that a large number of migrants had begun leaving last week itself when Kejriwal had imposed a weekend curfew, since rumours were adrift about a prolonged lockdown and shutdown of transport links in a replay of last year.

“People are leaving Delhi since last 4-5 days. Large number of migrants are heading to Gorakhpur and Azamgarh. Hundreds of thousands of people have left till now. Some had started leaving from April 13 when the weekend curfew was announced. We have no idea when they may come back,” says Akash who is a bus conductor for a bus headed to Gorakhpur.

Another conductor Anil, who is also with the Gorakhpur bus service, said that since one or one and a half week, almost thousands of young men have left the city. “Most of these people are leaving because of the lockdown. They are scared that like last year the lockdown will again get extended. Many are leaving for Gorakhpur and Bihar.”

Vipin, another bus conductor who is with the Bihar state bus service said that situation is really bad this time. “The sleeper class that usually accommodates two people is accommodating four now.”

The pell-mell of migrants has led to a severe pressure on demand for buses, especially towards eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Many transport operators have begun preying on the migrants’ plight and have raised the fare according to news reports. The migrants say they have no option but to pay the price as the alternative, of walking back home or remaining stuck in a distant land, may prove to be much more expensive.

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