A home away from home for migrant labourers in Chennai amid lockdown

For hundreds of stranded migrants, this school is a solace

Published: 30th May 2020 06:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2020 02:30 PM   |  A+A-

Stranded migrant workers from other states waiting at St Joseph's Anglo Indian Boys Higher Secondary School in Vepery. (Photo | Martin Louis/EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Kalyan Mandal and family just had their most-expensive auto ride in their whole life, but they are still hopeful of getting back home to Raipur in Chhattisgarh.

Sitting inside the St Joseph’s Anglo Indian Boys’ school premises in Vepery, along with his wife Vijeshwari Mandal and their one-year-old daughter, he counts himself as one of the lucky few to have found a space to stay, though it’s out in the open.

Kalyan, a construction labourer, had to shell out a whopping Rs 1,200 for an auto ride from Guduvanchery to Nehru Stadium, near the Central Station. However, when the family got there, the hopes of going back home crashed. They found out that there was no train leaving for the State on Friday.

“We are relieved that we do not have to go all the way back. It is difficult to keep moving back and forth with my little child and wife,” says Kalyan.

“Now, at least we can stay here for a few days till a train is ready to leave. We found out that the migrant workers wishing to return home were being put up at the Nehru Stadium. We took the chance and got there, but we were asked to come here.”

Kalyan and family are among 350-odd migrants taking shelter at the school.

Though there is no roof over their heads, and the summer heat is unbearable, the school management is doing its best to make their stay comfortable.

People keep coming in and going out of the space while Kalyan was talking.

A group from Bihar and Jharkhand were busy collecting tokens to take the 6pm train. Amarjit Kumar from Bihar Sharif in Nalanda and his friend Harendra Sahani from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh could hardly contain their joy.

Klyan Mandal and his family from Chhattisgarh waiting at the school | Martin Louis

Amarjit had a bagful of toys for his one-year girl. Harendra, on the other hand, said he would get down at his friend’s place and from there he will go home. He can’t wait to meet his wife, stating said he had to come for work within a month after marriage. “I can’t wait to go home and spend quality time with my wife and family,” he said with a grin. We received our confirmed tokens today, said Harendra and Amarjit in unison. People from Assam and Odisha had already taken up prime spots in the school ground after learning that they won’t be on the train tonight.

Welcoming arm
The school management opened the gates for the migrants four days ago. Fr E Sandhya said, “We are trying our best to provide accommodation to every person. Nobody is being turned away. They can stay here till their time comes to leave.” A couple of days ago around 200 migrants left for Bihar. We provided food and water, Fr Sandhya said. Every day the number keeps on swelling. While this reporter was leaving the premises, scores of people were waiting to get inside.

Nobody goes hungry
Whether people were going home or staying for another day, nobody would sleep on empty stomachs. The Corporation and like-minded NGOs made sure of that. The migrants relished pongal for breakfast and brinji rice and cabbage curry during the lunchtime. “We are trying our best to provide nutritious food for them,” said Corporation official K Manohar. “We have been providing food and water to the needy from day one of the lockdown,” said Vinod Jain, one of the organisers from the community.

‘Over 2 lakh migrants sent home’

Chennai : Southern Railway has sent 2.21 lakh migrant labourers back home by Shramik special trains, said a statement. As many as 177 special trains were operated from Tamil Nadu between May 1 and 28, to places across India -- 61 from Chennai, 31 from Coimbatore, 16 from Tirupur and 15 from Tiruvallur. Highest number of trains were operated to Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.

More from Tamil Nadu.


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