‘Told no need to eat twice a day to live’: Woman at Pune camp for migrant workers

The migrant camp is situated in Ambegaon Budruk, on the outskirts of Pune city.
Jamna Bai is grateful for the food she receives, but feels tormented at the treatment meted out to them when they ask for more food.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Jamna Bai is grateful for the food she receives, but feels tormented at the treatment meted out to them when they ask for more food.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Updated on Apr 16, 2020 04:52 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByShalaka Shinde

Every evening, a voluntary group comes and distributes boxes of cooked rice to a camp of about 100 migrant labourers living in six tin sheds at Ambegaon Budruk, on the outskirts of Pune city.

This is the only food that this camp of labourers gets in the day.

On Wednesday evening, Fatima Begum, a woman in her 30s, walked down the hill to collect food provided by the officials of Pune police who had found her while trying to walk from Pune to Madhya Pradesh along with around 150 others in the morning hours of Wednesday.

Grateful for the food that the camp was receiving once a day, Fatima said with despair,

“If we ask for more food, we are told that we do not need to eat twice to live. Once a day is enough for you, they tell us.”

Residing at a remote settlement near Sachhai Mata temple in the hill-area of Shaninagar area in Ambegaon Budrukh, the cluster of tin sheds which are home to these labourers from Madhya Pradesh, does not permit movement of two adults at once.

On Tuesday, these labourers and their children had made a failed attempt at walking to Madhya Pradesh from Ambegaon in Katraj, Pune.

Reason? The message of lockdown extension had not reached their remote settlement according to Sapna Vinod, a 20-something woman who was cradling a 2-year-old in her arms while her elder was leaning against her leg.

The extension of the 21-day lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday morning through a live telecast.

While on their way to Madhya Pradesh on foot, the labourers- some of who wore masks- were intercepted at a check post at Khadi Machine chowk in Kondhwa around 4am, said senior inspector Vinayak Gaikwad of Kondhwa police station.

“A few people came first. They were stopped and one by one around 50-60 families arrived at the check post. There were four policemen at the check post. Then the night patrol and beat marshalls joined them and took all of them to the shelter set up at Darekar School. But they chose to go back home,” said Gaikwad.

Gyansingh Thakur, 34, who lives with his wife and two children, said they were unaware that the lockdown had been extended.

“How will we know? The only communication we had last was from the contractor who told us on a Saturday that we cannot come the next day due to something called as Janta Curfew. We got to know about the first extension from the people around like in shops. Once the money ran out, we stopped going to the shop. Now we’re told that we must stay like this until May begins,” he said.

Jamna Bai, who is among the few older women in the colony, said they were trying to go to their hometown in Madhya Pradesh. “We have families there. We thought now that the lockdown is over, we will find a way to reach our state. Even if there are no vehicles, we were ready to walk the distance,” she said.

The labourers pay anywhere between Rs 1,300 to Rs 2,000 in rent for the tin shed and the cost of electricity usage is in addition to the cost of the water tanker that has to be paid for twice in every month.

The police who had intercepted them made food available for them. Cooked rice was also provided around 6pm on Wednesday. Until it arrived, the labourers who walked 16-18km from their houses and back, were awaiting the arrival of their next meal.

While some had been in Pune anywhere between 2-6 months, few others had arrived two days before the Janta Curfew was announced.

A young man who spat angrily and then stormed off in a huff said some time should have been given to migrant labourers to go back home to their families, rather than forced to live without income. They would most likely die of starvation if not disease, he said angrily.

While the police has now assured them supply of food it remains to be seen whether the Pune Municipal Corporation will make some temporary arrangements for these labourers.

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