With businesses shutting down in the aftermath of the corona virus lock-down, many Indians were left jobless. Many of these people were Indian migrants who had relocated for work but who suddenly found themselves desperate to return to their home towns.
With a lack of reliable transport in difficult times, many of these migrants chose to walk on foot to their villages, astonishingly covering hundreds of miles from state to state. Without being provided food rations for the journey and walking for days while heatwaves hit the country, many ran the risk of not making it home and dying of fatigue and starvation.
Severe heat wave conditions are very likely to prevail @ various parts of #Telangana till 29th of this month.#StayHomeStaySafe to save yourselves from heatwaves and #CoronaVirus too.@IMDWeather pic.twitter.com/CnSjgGIv12
— Telangana State Police (@TelanganaCOPs) May 26, 2020
32-year-old Dasharath Yadav travelled from Ahmedabad to Rajasthan’s Banswara district after he had heard that the state border between Gujarat and Rajasthan was going to close. “For 12 days, I had to massage my feet, bathe them in water with neem leaves and apply Moov ointment,” he said about the experience.
When given access to transport, many still succumbed to accidents. On a particular Saturday in May, 30 Indian migrants became victims to road accidents. In one of the most deadly incidents in Uttar Pardesh, a truck transporting 40 laborers crashed into another vehicle also filled with migrants, local magistrate Abishek Singh told AFP.
16 more died in May when a train ran over them as they slept in the shelter of a railway track. In response to the criticism levied against the Indian government for mishandling the migrant-laborer crisis, the government promised to assist those affected by providing financial assistance in getting them back home as well as providing food rations for the journey.
Indian Migrants walking to their hometowns
Last month, the Indian Government began a drive to repatriate around a million citizens living abroad. International migrants who were flown home from Gulf nations were left helpless as they had to cover the costs of quarantine. Many of these Indian migrants were working low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs in countries such as United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Upon arriving many of them found themselves in trouble with growing debt and destitution.
While some Indian states such as Kerala were accommodating for these repatriates, others were unforgiving. The southern state of Telangana, for instance was reported to be charging 8,000 rupees for the requisite week of quarantine in hotels. Migrants such as Mahender Deepkonda, who lost his security guard job in Qatar in March, said he had to take out a fresh loan to pay for a flight home in May and was falling ever deeper into debt.
Similarly, 38 year old Deepkonda paid 15,000 rupees for two weeks of quarantine before Telangana reduced the fee and period in May as per government guidelines. Talking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, he said “The cycle [of repayment] is broken. My outstanding loan amount has gone up by three times, I earn 500 rupees as daily wages for farm labor in my village, I don’t know when I will be able to repay this loan.”
Telangana Deputy secretary for non-resident Indian affairs in Telangana, Arvinder Singh, said that the returning workers were charged for travel and quarantine “as per the government of India guidelines”.
Meanwhile, immigrants seeking refuge in India are being discriminated for being Muslim according to the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. A law that has driven a wedge between India and Bangladesh and that has also led to further radicalization in the country.
This Sunday, 11 people in a family of 12 who had migrated to India from Pakistan, were found to be dead as reported by BBC Urdu. The family who belonged to the Bheel community had migrated some eight years ago. The survivor, Kewal Ram, is thought to have survived as he was sleeping at a distance from the family’s home. It is too early to say anything as according to police official, Rahul Barhat, “an investigation is being carried out to ascertain the exact cause of the incident.”