• Adyar Times

Al Vida - and the travellers are on their way...

They are leaving.. on foot, on cycle, by train if they can..

Someone suggested don't call them migrants, it's stark.. call them guest workers. And the very people who gave them this glorified name not only exploited them but misused them.

Rakesh from Uttar Pradesh has started his journey home from Chennai. He is a father of 5 children and his family at home are awaiting his arrival...Rakesh and his group of 5 are welders. He belongs to the unorganised sector. He worked with a contractor in Chennai who got his team to work with Ceat earlier and now at one of the Wipro units in Kanchipuram district.

When work stopped in March, the contractor paid them less than 50% of the wages and said he would soon arrange to pay the balance. It became very difficult to survive as nothing was available. They felt isolated and they had no money. With the goodwill of people around, once in a while, they got some rations. All the time they tried to see if they could get a train to return; this was next to impossible.

Rakesh earned Rs.18000/- a month, of which he sent Rs.8000 home. Without money in the last two months, he hasn't been able to send anything home. He says his wife has been driven to the wall and has to borrow Rs.1000 at a very high rate of interest.

Rakesh has pleaded with his contractor to pay them but to no avail. After a written complaint to the police, they were informed that the money would be credited to their account, but that might take an eternity. So after waiting for two months, he is starving here and his family starving there. Rakesh has taken on this arduous task with his team of five. They just have a bundle of clothes to carry home, a bad experience, badly hurt, a long marathon ahead.

Then there is Lakshman from Orissa. Lakshman has a huge family back home. He too works in building construction. How did he manage the lockdown? He said he continued to live at the mess in Guindy. It was not free - cost 3000 a month. So how did he pay for his shelter without work? He says he got his family to send him 3000 taken as a loan on high interest. Now it's time to leave as they can't send more. He is unsure about any mode of transport. What did he earn? About 12 to 13000 a month. He would pay for his expenses and send Rs.5000 home. Does he plan to return? He does. He has to repay the 3000 sent to him from home.

Many like Rakesh are walking. Father Bosco called to say they can't be stopped. How can we help? So, we have decided to make food parcels for the way: A bottle of water, Two loaves of bread, Two boiled eggs, a small jam jar, and Marie biscuit. This package costs Rs 100. It's the least we can do.

However as Father Bosco and his team saw them off yesterday, and they reached the Andhra border they have been beaten up by the police. Our poor guest workers have been beaten!

300 migrants who walked all the way till Vijayawada were beaten up, picked up, and put into 3 trucks and sent back to Tamil Nadu.

One truck reached Central Station and there again our guest workers were lathi-charged because the station was overcrowded. Was it their fault to be dropped off there?

So we are now having to “deal” with people coming back in the opp direction too! Many of the stranded migrants are now taken by the TN police and dropped off randomly in the city.

How do our politicians at the centre and state level ignore what is happening? After all, they just wanted to reach home walking since they are too poor to be noticed to get comfort.

COVID 19 again exposed the inhuman side of our government towards these very people whom they use for their vote bank. Their life has no value.

Feeling sad is just a phrase. The pain is something unexplainable. Hoping to aid returning migrants through Father Bosco's team.

This article is contributed by Nishath,M.S.W. She can be reached at nishath12@gmail.com.

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