Lucknow: Migrant workers who have returned back to their hometowns in Uttar Pradesh through different means are now facing another form of distress-homelessness.
While the Bharartiya Janata Party-led state government has ordered the returnees to go for home quarantine, the local villagers have been denying them entry into the villages for fear of contracting the virus.
As a result, hundreds of migrant families have no place of stay and are being compelled to self-quarantine themselves at a tube well, in open fields, some in plastic tents or under trees.
Arun Kumar, a native of Chakia Bhagwanpur village in Azamgarh district, who returned from Mumbai 's Virar along with seven others, is having to stay outside their village in ‘temporary homes’ made of palm leaves, as they have no space in his makeshift hut in the village.
"There is no facility of quarantine in my village and when we raised our voice our before village head, requesting him to manage some place where we can quarantine, he said we can stay in our homes as the government has not provided any fund regarding this. We are now forced to live outside our village near a tube well," said Kumar, adding that in the “kutcha” (makeshift) house, 14 members of his family were already living, so there was no space for him.
Ajit Chauhan, another migrant from Azamgarh said recently a portion of his “kutcha” house caved. As a result, his mother and younger brother were forced to live somewhere else.
"The plan was to return home and rebuild the house but given the situation, I cannot do much,” he said in in a choked voice. "I had a dream of building a house in the village, but all my dreams lie shattered now. I don't know what the future holds for us," said Chauhan.
Vinod Yadav. a social activist based in Azamgarh, said that under these circumstances, the state was abdicating its responsibilities by openly advising migrant workers to be home quarantined.
"The government does not want the workers to appear on the streets because that will expose the government’s lack of management for quarantine," he added.
Yadav said: "The government is only dramatising the concept of social distancing. In reality, migrants were brought here in buses like a bunch of animals and are living in conditions worse than in hell."
While the plight of India’s migrant workers has garnered headlines, with thousands being forced to walk miles to reach their homes since the sudden lockdown began on March 25, many workers say the thousands of homeless in Uttar Pradesh now face a bigger risk of contracting COVID-19.
Expressing concern over the plight of migrant workers, Ajeet Pandey, a social activist based in Lucknow, who has been working round the clock for migrants, said: “How does one quarantine someone who has no home, or someone who lives cheek by jowl with 10 others in a small room?”, adding that because daily wagers were poor, “they've been left here to die.”
With no means of survival, Barmesh's family decided to undertake a 600-km journey from Delhi back to his native village in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh.
"I left Delhi with my family members as there was nothing left for us in the city, but I am disappointed. How will I survive without no money in hand and no land on paper?" he said.
With no job in hand and resources slowly draining out, the predicament has hit homeless persons, children and women among the migrants the most. For them, the choice is to die walking home or face a painful death due to hunger in their villages.