MYSURU: It would have been unthinkable some decades ago -- walking through dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s territory, even if only to go to their villages. But in the last 20 days, thousands of migrant workers in groups, left with no option, have been walking miles, day and night, from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, through dense forests, highways and rail tracks, and crossing rivers to reach their homes.
Their homes are spread over several hamlets around MM Hills in Hanur taluk. When they entered the forest, they had to pass through what used to be Veerappan’s hideouts, before reaching their villages. Veerappan, with his trademark handlebar moustache, from Gopinatham village on the banks of Cauvery, had a free run for over two decades over forest land straddled across the Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala borders. He was killed by the police in 2004.
The migrants -- aged between 30 and 60 – were working in quarries, estates, textile mills and construction sites in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Over 600 of them have returned to Karnataka. They walked for nearly a week and ate jackfruits, custard apples, mangoes and other forest produce to sustain themselves. They embarked on this nightmarish journey, as they had no jobs nor any food due to the lockdown.
Cauvery, say migrants
Kandaswamy, along with four others, worked in a granite quarry near Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh. As they were stopped by the police on the way, they decided to enter Krishnagiri forest. They had to walk on kachca roads to reach Jaganikote near Hoggenekal Falls on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, falling in the Cauvery wildlife sanctuary, he said.
“After three days of trekking, we had some respite when we reached the banks of the Cauvery. We sought the help of fishermen to cross it in a coracle. Then we walked 15 km via Alampadi to reach our villages at the foot of the MM Hills,” he said.The story of Mayilswamy and two others is no different. They managed to reach Sathyagala bridge and pleaded with the cops to allow them to reach their village. “When they refused, we managed to swim across the Cauvery and walk to our relatives’ house in Jaggeri. From there, we managed to reach our homes on bikes,” he said.
Madesha recalled their encounter with a wild tusker. “We quickly climbed a tree and perched on a branch for an hour. When the elephant moved towards a stream, we climbed down and continued our trekking,” he said.Knowing that the people were walking through forest near the MM Hills, police had deputed a constable and a Home Guard at a few points to keep vigil. But the migrants started moving after sunset to avoid the wildlife.On learning that the migrants had reached the villages from neighbouring states, Maratahalli Village Panchayat member H A Japamalai informed ASHA health workers. The migrants had to undergo checkup and were put under home quarantine.