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Gurugram: With no support in their home towns, many migrants stay back

By Alind Chauhan
PUBLISHED ON MAY 25, 2020 10:59 PM IST

Gurugram

Thousands of migrant workers have left Gurugram for their home states as their source of income dried up due to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, many migrant families have stayed back as they do not have any family support, alternative source of income or their own house in their home towns. Now, such migrants are dependent on the supply of free ration by the district administration or forced to take loans in order to buy groceries.

“Hum ko to ab yehi rehena hai. Ghar par kuch nahi rakha hai (We will have to live here only. Our home town does not have any resources),” Kamala, a migrant worker from Madhya Pradesh, said while standing outside her shanty at Kanhai village in Sector 45.

Unlike hundreds of migrant workers who left their shanties in the area, Kamala did not leave Gurugram for her native state after the lockdown. For the past two months, Kamala and her husband have been living on sporadic supply of free ration from the district administration and borrowing groceries from the local shops.

“We stayed back because there is nothing for us in our home town. We had a house there which was destroyed during a storm and was never rebuilt. We do not even have a ration card there. In our home town, we will die due to starvation. Here, I can at least borrow some money and groceries to survive,” said Kamala, who works as domestic help at four houses in Sector 45.

In a rapid survey of 100 migrant workers done by Safe in India Foundation (SII) and Agrasar (both Gurugram-based organisations working for workers) earlier this month, it was found that 76% of the workers did not receive their salary for April and 86% of those, who have stayed back, want to go back to the same company after the lockdown.

At another patch of shanties in Kanhai village, Sripath Kharwar and his family are the only ones left behind. On Saturday afternoon, there was an eerie silence in the area, punctured only by the sounds of passing by vehicles. Several auto-rickshaws belonging to migrant workers who left were parked in front of the vacant shanties.

“My children are alone as other families have left. But those people had something or someone to go back to. Where should I go now?” said Kharwar, a daily wager from Madhya Pradesh. On May 21, he was offered work for just two days at a construction site nearby and earned Rs 800 for each day’s labour.

“Currently, we are surviving on whatever work I was offered. I do not even know if I will get any work tomorrow. I owe around Rs 20,000 to grocery shop owners and other people,” Kharwar said while alleging that the administration did not provide free ration on a regular basis. His two children, seven-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, had to drop out of a private school just before the lockdown due to lack of money.

However, Vivek Kalia, estate officer-II, Haryana Shahri Vikas Pradhikaran, denied the allegation.

“We are still providing food at the community centres. The migrant workers can go there and collect it. The verification of free ration forms is still underway. As soon as it gets completed, ration will be distributed among the migrant workers. Many of them have already received the supply,” said Kalia, who is also the nodal officer for food distribution in the district.

At Silokhera village, South City-1, most of the migrant families from West Bengal have stayed back. Without any source of income and occasional supply of free ration, the families are facing a financial crisis and most of them are debt ridden.

“No government officials provided us any special train or bus to go to West Bengal. The private agents are demanding Rs 5,000 for each passenger, which I can’t afford as I have four persons in my family. Though my other family members live in Malda, I cannot afford to return,” said Shakir-ul Ali, who stays in a rented room in Silokhera village.

He has been a resident of Gurugram for more than four years and works as auto-rickshaw driver. “I now owe around Rs 15,000 to my friends and other grocery shop owners. I have to pay around Rs 4,500 every month, as my landlord has refused to let me stay here without paying rent,” Ali added.

The officials said that trains and buses are being arranged for all the migrant workers who want to return to their native states. Mahesh, station house officer (SHO), Sector 40 police station, said, “Recently, migrant workers from North-east states were sent home. Police personnel in our jurisdiction are going around and asking the migrant workers to be registered for the journey. All those who are from West Bengal will also be ferried to their home as soon as buses and trains are arranged for them.”

Regarding the alleged harassment by the landlords on pretext of rent, the SHO said that whenever such an incident was reported, the police have taken necessary steps against the suspects.

In April, the Haryana government had issued directions stating that landlords should not demand house rent for a month from migrant workers, students and paramedics in rural areas of the state. As per the order, if any landlord is found forcing such tenants to vacate, they would be liable for strict criminal action.

However, the only silver living for such migrant workers is the recent ease in lockdown restriction. As work at construction sites has resumed and cabs and auto-rickshaws have been allowed to run, such migrant workers hope they will gradually find some job and would be able to sustain their families.

Nand Kishore, a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh, stays in South City-1 with his family and younger brother. He works as auto-rickshaw driver and is also attached with a cab aggregator in the city. Kishore said that he had to borrow around Rs 25,000 to survive.

However, for the past one week, things have improved for him. “Since last Sunday, I have been driving around my auto-rickshaw. The business is not that good but I earn enough money to survive. It has been more than two decades since I came to this city. Things would have been worse if I had chosen to return to my home town. Nobody even remembers me there,” Kishore added.

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