What will corona do to us! Before corona, hunger will kill us: Migrant workers in Kerala

Painter Mohammed Tanveer is bedridden in Kerala after breaking his thighbone, his family - including 5-yr-old nephew-back home in Bihar's Samastipur district is surviving on just one meal a day.

Published: 17th April 2020 09:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th April 2020 10:21 AM   |  A+A-

Sudha Bibi's son Mohammed Tanveer lying in a room after a thighbone surgery in Udma, 2,525km away, in Kasaragod (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

KASARAGOD: On April 2, right in the middle of a nationwide lockdown against COVID, farm labourer Sudha Bibi (55) raised Rs 60,000 from her relatives and neighbours in Samastipur district of Bihar. Never before has she seen Rs 60,000.

She was responding to an SOS from her son -- 2,525 km away -- in Kasaragod.

On March 23, a day before the nationwide lockdown came into effect, Mohammed Tanveer (26) -- the seventh of her eight children -- fell from the scaffolding while repainting an old two-storey house at Udma. He broke his thighbone.

The owner of the house gave Tanveer Rs 10,000 for treatment and called in an ambulance. "We thought that will take care of the medical expenses," said Mohammed Jahangir (29), elder brother of Tanveer, who was painting along with him.

But the General Hospital in Kasaragod did not admit Tanveer as it was converted into COVID Care Centre. After knocking at two other hospitals, he was admitted to a private hospital in Kasaragod. The contractor, who employed the two brothers, agreed to foot the hospital bill. The surgeons at the hospital inserted a steel rod to help support the fractured femur till it heels. 

After 10 days at the hospital, Tanveer was ready to go home. The bill came to Rs 75,000. Seeing the bill, the labour contractor backed off. "I pleaded with the doctor to reduce the bill. He brought down the bill to Rs 65,000 and said it was a private hospital and it was the best he could do," said Jahangir.

Left with no option, the brothers called their mother back home. 

In Samastipur, Sudha Bibi shares her one-room house with her three daughters, two daughters-in-law and a five-year-old nephew, Shah Alam. Her husband, who used to make mattresses, died one year and a half ago, forcing the sons to leave their village in search of better jobs.

Tanveer landed in Kasaragod six months ago and found a job as a painter. "I brought in my elder brother because I liked this place and the wage was better too," said Tanveer, lying on the floor of a congested room he shares with four others, including Jahangir. 

For the family, the going got better. Every week, Sudha Bibi's three sons -- the eldest is working in an industrial estate in Delhi -- send her around Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000. She, too, work found work as a farmhand. 

But now, the family is steeped in debt and no work at hand. "We are poor. We came here for work but got trapped," said Jahangir.

Tanveer said his mother and sisters back home often ate only once a day. "Sometimes, even my nephew sleep without dinner," he said. "What will corona do to us! Before corona, hunger will kill us," said Tanveer.

In Bihar, the government said it would give foodgrains free of cost through ration shops. "But my mother said they did not get anything," he said.

In Udma, the situation is slightly better for the siblings. The panchayat delivers packed meals for all the five persons in the room. "But we will have to manage on our own for breakfast and dinner," he said.
Yet, Tanveer was literally sobbing to go home. "Please help us. Please do something and take me home. At least my mother and sisters are there to take care of me," he said.

The lockdown has been particularly harsh on the migrant workers who are living without work and wages. They have been pleading with the governments to take them home. Kerala has around 3.85 lakh migrant workers, most of them longing to head home. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told Prime Minister Narendra Modi to run non-stop trains to take workers home and financial support for unskilled workers. But the Centre has rejected the transport proposal.

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