Thousands gather in Chhatarpur in the hope of returning home
Nearly 5,000 migrants from across the national Capital gathered near Chhatarpur Mandir in south Delhi between Saturday and Monday after news spread that people were being screened there to be sent back home on trains, government officers said.
While NGOs and residents arranged meals for the migrants, they struggled to find toilets and spent two nights on the roadside.
The district authorities stepped in on Monday to arrange their stay on the Chhatarpur Mandir premises and dharamshalas nearby, with assurances that they would get to board trains to their home towns over the next few days.
“Many of the nearly 5,000 migrants who had gathered here have returned to their homes. Over the last couple of days, we have sent around 900 people to their homes in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh by train. Around 2,000 migrants remain here. We have made arrangements for them to stay until we can arrange trains for them,” DM Mishra, district magistrate (south Delhi), said while leading a long queue of migrants to the temple where green and red mats were spread out on floors.
Among those left behind on Monday were people who had made multiple failed attempts to get to their home towns, those who had walked here from as far as Bawana and many who got separated from their families .
One such man, Kapil Dev, who walked from Bawana to reach Chhatarpur, said that one of his friends had called him on Saturday to inform him of the availability of trains.
“I have been waiting here since Saturday night, sleeping on the pavement and hiding behind walls to relieve myself. I am not going to return to Bawana. I tried to leave Delhi on a truck, a bicycle and foot but got caught each time. This might be my last chance,” said Dev, an elderly mechanic who belongs to Darbhanga in Bihar.
Mishra said that a lot of these migrants had received SMSs from the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), on whose website they had registered to go back home, to assemble in Chhatarpu.
“The word soon spread and over two days, about 5,000 people gathered here,” he said, adding that the numbers were unexpected.
While the government could not immediately arrange food for the large gathering, residents stepped in to provide them with meals. “There were no toilets for them. They were sleeping on pavements, in parking lots, and wherever they could find in this heat. We have been arranging food for 1,500 people, but the gathering is much larger than that,” Bhavreen Kandhari, an activist, said.
On Monday and Tuesday, several migrants were sent to the New Delhi railway station in DTC buses. Among those left behind were Kanhaiya Lal Das, a mason who wants to return to his village in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. He had brought along all his belongings in a sack and carried a ceiling fan in his hand.
“My house owner wouldn’t let me stay if I didn’t pay rent. So, I packed all my belongings. I don’t think I’ll return to Delhi if I can get back to my village. Whatever little I earn there will be enough for me,” he said.
Then there were others who got separated from their families in the melee. “My five-year-old son got separated from us and is in the queue for those being sent by train. Please reunite us with him,” Vipin Kumar, a migrant, urged the district magistrate.
Since sending Kumar with his son in a train on Monday was out of the question because of the rush, the DM went looking for the boy until they could be sent home together.