Hurrying back home to skip Covid fury, migrant workers in Bihar stare at uncertain future
He paid through the nose to return to his native village in Bihar from Mumbai, among the cities worst-hit by Covid-19, but back home the future looks bleak for 20-year-old Vishal Kumar, who happens to be the sole breadwinner of his family.
Out of job and with little savings left, Kumar said he might have to go back to the western metropolis if he is unable to find a job in Arwal, his home district.
After failed attempts to find a berth in a ‘Shramik Special’ train, Kumar had bought a plane ticket with almost all the money he had saved to reach Bihar, but the government, shortly after, shelved its plan to resume flight operations in mid-May.
Left with no choice, he coughed up Rs 8,500 to book a seat in a private bus, which was ferrying migrants to Daltonganj in Jharkhand.
“I used to get a monthly salary of Rs 16,000 working for an eyewear wholesaler in Mumbai. I barely managed to save money after meeting all expenses. Now, I have little money left, and my future hangs in a balance with no job opportunity in sight amid the lockdown,” Kumar said.
After an exasperating bus journey for five days, he reached Daltonganj on May 20, and returned to his native place at Chulhan Bigha in Arwal district with help from his relatives.
He is currently undergoing 14-day quarantine at an isolation centre near his place.
Along with him, over 50 other fellow migrants, many of them Surat returnees, are lodged at a quarantine centre in Pirawa panchayat area of the district.
Vijay Kumar, a middle-aged daily wager who lost his job at a private concern in Surat, told PTI over phone, “I had no money left to pay rent. I thought it was best to return home.” Vijay, who earned Rs 500 per day, said he was lucky to have got a berth in a Shramik Special train.
“The factory owner gave around 500 of us eight kilogramme of foodgrains and vegetables, before shutting down the unit on May 22,” he said.
“Big cities extend hospitality only till you work there. Once out of work, it is difficult to arrange two meals a day. Cashless and hungry, hundreds of us returned to our native places in Bihar,” Vijay added.
Narrating his travel woes, Vishal Kumar said 35 of them travelled in a bus, which made stops at dhabas where they had ‘dal-roti’ in a hurry.
For nature calls, too, they had to patiently wait for the bus to stop at remote locations, he said.
The two, however, were all praise for the arrangements made by the state government for housing migrants at the quarantine centres.
“We got ‘Balti kit’ (bucket, towel, soap among other things) and comfortable beds set up in the classrooms of a middle school, which has been converted into a quarantine centre,” Vishal said.
He, was, however, sceptical about his job prospects in this eastern state.
“As soon as I step out of the quarantine centre, I will start looking for a job. My ‘malik’ (employer) said I could return to work once the situation improves... But amid the Covid-19 crisis, I don’t want to return anytime soon. If I don’t find anything here, I may have to catch a train to Mumbai,” he noted.
Lakhs of migrants who have hurried back home in Bihar, walking, peddling bicycles and hitchhiking their way to their native places, are no longer sure if they would be able to live by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra of “Jaan Bhi Jahaan Bhi” (life as well as livelihood).
The Bihar government has promised to make livelihood arrangements for the returnees after mapping their skills, but with so many having returned to the state from metropolises, it remains to be seen if they would stay put to dig earth or lay bricks under the MGNREGA scheme.