KASARAGOD: After being confined to their small rooms for 50 days, the migrant workers may have reached a tipping point.
Tuesday morning, around 100 young men -- almost all natives of Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh -- vacated their rooms in Uppala and hit the railway tracks to walk to Mangaluru. They were hoping to catch a train to their homeland from the city in neighbouring state.
"We told them not to leave their houses as it is not possible to cross the border without a permit or board train from another state. But they will not listen to reason," said Kasaragod deputy superintendent of police Balakrishnan.
The officer said he spoke to the panchayat present Abdul Aziz, and he assured the migrant workers of food. "But they don't want food. They want to go home," Balakrishnan said.
Manimunda and Uppala in Mangalpady panchayat have around 250 workers from Lakhimpur. Most of them work in the construction industry. "We have lost our patience sitting in the room without money or job or food for the past 54 days," Ramesh (24), a painter, said, showing the welts on his arms after being beaten by the police for flouting the lockdown.
Manjeshwar police resorted to mild lathi-charge but quickly understood there was no point in beating them. "We have come out with biscuits and namkeen (snacks). We don't even have water with us," Suresh Kumar Nishad (24), another painter, said waving a Marie biscuit packet in his hand.
They vacated their rooms around 10 am and started walking. They reached Thalappady, 35km away, by 5 pm. But the Dakshina Kannada police stopped them.
It was a tiring walk on the hot ballast along the railway track.
"Now we are trapped. We are not allowed to walk further and I don't think our house-owners will take us back," said Ramesh.
But police said they have spoken to the house-owners and the workers would face no trouble in getting back to their house. After negotiating for three hours, the police ran three trucks to take the migrant workers back to their rooms in Uppala from Thalapady.
On Monday, when TNIE spoke to these workers, they said the house-owners kept asking when they would vacate the houses and urged them not to use fans during the day to avoid rising power bills.
The government of Kerala had asked the house-owners not to charge rent during the lockdown period or evict the tenants. "So they resort to taunting us," said Ramesh.
'They are vulnerable, may slip into depression'
Government psychiatrist Sunny Mathew, who counsels migrant workers, said it was not surprising that they tried to "escape".
"They will feel like they have been kidnapped because they confined to a small room for 50 days. It is human nature to try to escape from such a situation," he said. "You have to understand they have no money or job and in some cases no food, either," he said.
Mathew said the migrant workers would be more vulnerable now because of the failed attempt to escape. "The panchayat's ward-level Jagrithi Committee should step in and provide emotional support and food," he said. "Else they may slip into depression," he said.
One of the four Malayalees who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday "escaped" from Mumbai by hitchhiking several trucks, said the psychiatrist. "That's human nature. He was trying to survive but in the process, he may have infected the truck drivers," Dr Mathew said.
To be sure, all four persons arrived from Mumbai. Three of them came in a taxicab. The taxi driver may have contracted the virus, said the doctor.
Dr Mathew said if the panchayat did not step in, the migrant workers in Uppala would try to "escape again because they do not know how long they will have to be in rooms, he said.