CHENNAI: The 40-day lockdown may have crippled them psychologically but these bunch of migrant workers from Madhya Pradesh have a steely resolve -- that is to pedal all the way to Satna, which is around 1600 km away from Kanchipuram district in the sole hope of being with their families.
Working as construction workers in a firm in Sai Nagar in Kanchipuram, the six workers hailing from Satna have loaded their cycles with provision including oil, rice, dal and some utensils to cook along the way as they proceed on a ardous journey with cops also tailing them.
When told about strict checks being undertaken in the border area, these bunch of cyclists hoped that luck would favour them as they refuse to back down.
Borrowing cycles from nearby area, the workers are concerned about their families, who have been left to fend off themselves without any money during thye lockdown. "We have been spending our money to buy provisions during the lockdown as such we thought it would be better to go back home," says Anil Kumar Ravi and Krishna Kumar Rawat.
To a query on whether they will return back to Chennai, Anil says he will return depending upon the situation. "If things don't go well then I will start work as farmer," he says.
As the temperature soars near 40 degree celsius with the start of Kathiri, the cyclists only have hope as they pedal out to their destination. Infact the National Highway 5 from Ambattur to Sri City bears the testimony of desperation among the workers who wanted get away from the abode which is depressing to a place where they are wanted by their families.
Similar is the tale of eight to 10 migrant workers from Yeshwantpur in Karnataka, who wanted to reach Gorakhpur. “We took the rail track and it took us four days. While near Chennai someone directed us to take the Highway to go to Andhra Pradesh, recalls Akhilesh of Gorakhpur. “ We plan to go to Vijayawada as there are trains to UP and Bihar,” he says as the group is shooed away by cops who have been patrolling the area. The group coud barely walk and looked tired.
Meanwhile, around 150 migrants, walking in groups of two, four, six, eight and 10, were also seen braving the sun to reach Andhra border. Some started the journey as early as 4 am while others at 6.30am on Tuesday with only carrying a hope to reach Vijawwada to access a train to be with their families who are thousands of kilometres away in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Neeraj Kumar a worker from a local automobile spare parts company, who was hoping to somehow reach Ghaziabad along with his friend, started as early as 4 am from the temporary shelter provided by the company in Ambattur Industrial Estate. "They are not providing us food and we have been dependent on Amma Unavagam. That too is shut now. Since the employers have asked us to leave, our only hope is to reach home," he claims.
Alok Kumar Panda, a native of Champaran in Bihar and a worker in a steel company in Gummidipoondi, who was asked to leave by his company after they paid him his dues, said he left after a fight with the contractor. "Now I don't have anywhere to go. I will cross the Andhra border and reach Vijaywada where I coud get a train to Bihar and Jharkhand," he said.
Similar is the story of Dilip Kumar, who also works in a steel company in Gumiddipoondi. A father of a son and daughters, the 36-year-old is desperate to reach his family in Jharkhand and hope to cross the border.
But ironically, these aspirants hopes were belied by the lathi-weilding cops in Andhra border who beat them up and sent them back to Tamil Nadu border.
Meanwhile, a section of migrant workers flocked to Chennai Central hoping against hope that train services will resume to ferry them back to their home states. "I have come from Chengalpattu hoping that train services will be there to take us home. My owner has asked me to go. We want to be with our families," said a migrant worker.