‘Better to die of corona than hunger’: UP migrants head back to jobs in other cities
With the Indian Railways resuming partial services and running 200 special trains from June 1 following Unlock 1 when several curbs have been relaxed, migrants have started returning going back to their jobs in other cities as savings have dried up for many of them.Updated: Jun 03, 2020 23:28 IST
A few weeks ago, India witnessed an exodus of migrant workers returning home from their place of work following the lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus disease Covid-19. Many among those who walked or took Shramik Special trains to go back did so as they had no work and very few means to survive.
But, now hunger has pushed back the fear of death and the trend has started reversing, at least in Uttar Pradesh.
With the Indian Railways resuming partial services and running 200 special trains from June 1 following Unlock 1 when several curbs were relaxed, migrants have started going back to their jobs in other cities as savings have dried up for many of them.
In the past three days, the Pushpak Express, now renamed Pushpak Express Special, which runs between Lucknow and Mumbai, has ferried over 1,100 passengers including migrants to various cities on its route.
On Wednesday, 283 passengers boarded the Pushpak Express Special in Lucknow, according to Mahesh Gupta, public relations officer, North Eastern Railway (Lucknow). The passengers included labourers, private sector employees and self-employed people who were returning to work.
“Things are getting back to normal. The railway administration is following all protocols regarding Covid-19. For the benefit of people, special train services have started from June 1. It also includes the train connecting Mumbai and Lucknow,” Gupta said.
Bahraich resident Sheikhu Alam is one such migrant who is now on making the return journey. As the sole breadwinner for his family of nine, he says he has no other option but to get back to work.
A worker at an aluminium window frames unit in Bhopal, Alam said, “It’s better to die of coronavirus than hunger.”
“We were asked to leave by the ‘seth’ (the employer) after the lockdown was announced on March 24. While leaving, he gave us Rs 500 each as the fare and told us to see him once things get back to normal. I was accompanied by six others from Bahraich who returned to UP at the time,” Alam said.
The initial days of the lockdown at home were good for Alam as it was after almost two years that he was meeting his family members.
“We enjoyed ourselves with Ammi, Abbu and the siblings. We savoured all the delicacies that we could afford—biryani, korma and others,” said Alam.
However, problems began after almost a month with Alam’s savings getting smaller by the day.
“I had saved money for two years, which I have spent and now I am left with little money. Somehow, we waited for the lockdown phase to get over. Now that it is almost over, we are returning to our job as it is better to die of corona than hunger,” said Alam, who was travelling by sleeper class on the Pushpak Express Special.
Many others from Alam’s city, who work in the same unit as him in Bhopal, are also travelling on the same train.
Aiman Khan, who was in an air-conditioned coach, too was on his way back to Mumbai.
“We own a small restaurant on Meera Road, Mumbai. On March 19, after the Covid-19 cases began spreading across the country, my brother Shahdab and I decided to go back to our hometown Lucknow. But now that the lockdown phase is almost over, we have decided to resume work at our restaurant since it is the only source of income for the family,” said Aiman Khan.
Another passenger on board the train was Deepak Rai, who works with an automobile company in Mumbai.
“This phase is not good for any company as many people are losing their jobs. I don’t want to be the next one. Hence, I am going to resume my work,” he said.
The Pushpak Express Special ferried 437 passengers on the first day while there were around 420 passengers onboard the second day.
The scene is no different on other trains departing from Lucknow. As many as 620 passengers boarded the New Delhi-bound Gomti Express on June 1, 269 on June 2 and 300 on June 3.
A ban on passenger train movement was one of the curbs announced by the Centre when the lockdown was announced on March 25. However, when thousands of migrant workers started making long, arduous and often fatal journeys back home either on foot or in trucks etc, the Railways started Shramik Special trains from May 1 to ferry them back home safely.
The Uttar Pradesh government brought back over six lakh migrant labourers, who were stranded in Maharashtra.