AURANGABAD: Always willing to carry heavy luggage of travellers for a nominal fee, porters are now themselves burdened with debts and struggling to meet their ends meet due to the lockdown, which has severely hit their source of income.
For years, the red-uniformed porters have been an integral part of the railway life and have also inspired some Bollywood films, but they are now facing a big challenge of how to sustain their livelihood.
Yusuf Shah, a porter at the Aurangabad railway station in Maharashtra, every day stares at the deserted platforms and rail tracks in the hope of getting some business but returns home empty-handed.
The porter, who has a big family of six daughters to look after, is now worried how to sustain their livelihood and how to repay his debt of Rs 8,000.
Following the Maharashtra government's announcement of 'Mission Begin Again' for phase-wise reopening of the economy and public activities, he is hoping to start earning but can't get over the bitter memories of the two-and-a-half-month long lockdown.
"There are 14 porters at the Aurangabad railway station who used to earn Rs 300 to Rs 400 every day prior to the lockdown.
But after the trains came to a halt, this meagre income also stopped," Shah told PTI.
"I have not earned a single rupee since almost two months. My debts are mounting. I have to repay a loan of about Rs 8,000. Same is the story of every porter here," he said.
The starting of Shramik Special trains last month to ferry migrant labourers gave some hope to Shah.
"We expected some income from train travellers, but nothing happened. Passengers were being medical screened and we also got scared of contracting the coronavirus infection," he said.
Shah claimed only one train is currently being operated from Aurangabad.
"Two of us (porters) went to the railway station to seek work a couple of days back. But only one of us, a woman, got work worth Rs 100," he said.
Shah said that during the lockdown, the Railways provided them limited ration only once.
"We expect a fixed income from the Railways as we have spent a long time here working as porters. The Railways inducted porters into service in 2008. We also expect similar help now," he said.