On Saturday, March 28, news broke that four labourers got killed while they were walking on the road connecting Mumbai and Ahmadabad. They were daily-wagers walking from Valsad in Gujarat to Vasai in Maharashtra. With India under lockdown from March 25 due to fears around the coronavirus, these daily wagers had no work, and there was no transportation taking them home. So, they walked for close to 250 kilometers, and when they were just about 60 kilometers away from their homes, a tempo rammed into them. Four of the seven labourers lost their lives on the spot and three were critically injured.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the sudden announcement for a complete lockdown, labourers from across the nation had no option but to walk to their native villages. Visuals of thousands and thousands of labourers walking down from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh with no food and almost zero money to buy anything, have evoked sympathy. The lockdown is being criticised for a lack of preparedness. Though there could be claims, counter-claims and reasons behind why the governments imposed it, those that are suffering are the common man and woman of India, who have almost zero money in their hands.
Since March 24, a number of incidents from Maharashtra have come to light, which show lakhs of labourers leaving cities and returning home, all while trying every possible way to do so. In Yavatmal, a border district of the Vidarbha region, there was a case of some labourers returning from Telangana to reach their native villages in Madhya Pradesh in closed containers. The police were shocked when they found them sitting in the containers.
Social activist Ulka Mahajan told NewsClick that close to 500 tribal families from Raigad district in the Konkan region got stuck in Karnataka's Anantpur. They were working on a coal cleaning project. “They are daily wagers who are without work since the mines stopped working from March 24. Their contractor fled and now they do not have money to return home. So, we are arranging for help from our friends in Karnataka," she said.
On Friday evening, about two thousand labourers who worked at Jalana's steel factory started walking to their homes in Madhya Pradesh's Chhindwara. They were given money by their contractors. Sangram Deshmukh, a local journalist from Jalana, was informed that the labourers tried to arrange for a bus or a tempo but no driver was ready to leave, fearing police action. “Finally, they decided to walk down to their homes. The distance is around 475 kilometers,” Sangram said.
There are also cases of workers covering great distances on foot in their own state. Kacharu Patil stays in Dombivali and works in Manchar. He left his workplace on the morning of March 25. “Why wait? I heard on Tuesday evening that no vehicle will be on the road from the next day. So I started walking down. It took me two days to reach Murbad from where I got vehicle for Dombivali," Kacharu said. In comparison, Kacharu got off easy, but still walked for 120 kilometers and was given a ride for the last 40.
It is not as easy for others, who are walking through walls of government apathy.