NEW DELHI: Eighteen-year-old Yogesh Kumar is now less worried about the lack of rations he and his family are facing. A panipuri seller in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, Kumar wants to reach his home in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh when the lockdown is lifted. But in the absence of any livelihood, the question that looms before him is ‘how’.
“My grandfather died on the first day of lockdown. We need to visit our village. My income stopped even before the lockdown… who would want to eat panipuri when they fear virus is spreading? If the lockdown is lifted, my sister, my mother and I will head to our village. But we have no money. We have to borrow money from somewhere,” said Kumar who came to Gujarat eight years back.
The narrative of the teenager echoes through migrant workers stranded in their destination states without any income amid the lockdown.
Rajyeshram, 32, who works in a garment factory in Ahmedabad wants to return to Motihari, Bihar, by borrowing money from acquaintances. “Borrowing is the only way out. We have to reach our village. Some arrangements have to be made. It does not look like we will get any help from the government,” he said.
The most troubling part was the uncertainty of what lies ahead, said Bhan Ji Meena, who has booked his tickets from Delhi to Udaipur for April 16. “We are very tense… but we hope we can go. But everything is uncertain now,” said Meena, who works as a domestic help in the capital.
Mahesh Gajera, programme manager, Aajevika Bureau, Ahmedabad, said, “We are getting a significant number of distress calls where migrant workers are stressed on how they would be able to manage the funds to return to their villages once the lockdown is lifted.”
As the decision, if lockdown would be extended or lifted looms before migrant workers, they remain distressed on how they would travel back home with no money in their pockets or stay back in the absence of livelihood.
For Pool Panti, 26, staying back in Gujarat would mean shelling out Rs 3,000 for rent. With the paltry income he eked out by selling four idlis for Rs 10 to support his wife, two-year-old son and two-month-old daughter, he has barely managed to have any savings, he said. “And returning to our home in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu would require money too,” said Panti expressing helpless to gauge the way ahead.
“The government should run helplines specifically for migrant workers. There should be special trains to so that migrant workers are not stuck in transit. The hotspots for migration are already known, and the government needs to take measures to ensure workers reach their homes,” said Sudhir Katiyar, secretary, Centre for Labour Research and Action.