TIRUCHY: As March 24 dawned, there was a flurry of activity across the city, especially at bus stops, as people made a beeline to return to their hometowns. Special buses were arranged and the stops were extremely crowded. However, Muthukumar was not among those waiting for a bus home. A welder from Coimbatore, he came to Tiruchy, as fate would have it, just a week before the lockdown in search of a job. A widower, he came to Tiruchy with three bags and his 11-year-old son in tow. With no work, he did not have the money to take a bus back home.
There are hundreds of daily wage workers like Muthukumar in Tiruchy. They are all stranded in the streets of the city and have to spend the 21 days of lockdown homeless and penniless, instead of in the comfort of their homes. Raja (48) came to Tiruchy as part of a catering group for a wedding. Hailing from Gangaikonda Cholapuram, he, too, did not have the money for a bus ride home. "It is difficult for us to get three meals a day. We are afraid to move around too much. We could not even afford the bus back home, such is our condition," said Raja.
Some others laughed at the notion of walking back to their hometowns, as has happened in other parts of the country with devastating consequences. "How can we walk 300 km? We came to know about the lockdown and ran to the station. Unfortunately, we missed the last train home. We now have to live on the streets," said Rajesh from Tiruppur.
Gopinath (21) from Tiruppur is ready to return at the first opportunity, as soon as bus services start. He said his mother is worried sick. "She keeps worrying about how I am managing. I came here to do more work. As I did not get the payment, I could not leave. I just want the government to arrange transport for us," said Gopinath.
They are all staying on the streets of Srirangam close to the temple, as many people give food there. They say they have found a spot to sleep at night and are getting by thanks to good Samaritans who distribute food. Ask them if they are afraid of the virus and they laugh. "The poor are not afraid of this virus.
We are staying on the road and you think we will be afraid of corona? A hungry stomach is our biggest worry. We are dying slowly, better if we die all at once," said Raja.
There are about 500 daily wage workers currently in the city, according to these workers. The Corporation has set up three community shelters which can accommodate 50 people each. Yet, there are still many workers on the streets, with no jobs and nowhere to go.