For the last two days, Tariq and his fellow truck drivers have been surviving on water. Their stock of food is over and shopkeepers are not selling to them. With no shelter in sight, these drivers have been living inside their trucks for five days. The truckers, who were on their way to Kashmir, are stranded on the national highway near Batal village in Samba district, about 40 kilometres from Jammu.
“The shopkeepers are not selling food items to us. They are shooing us away saying that we carry the coronavirus. We have nothing to eat. We will die like this,” said Tariq, one of the stranded truck drivers. NewsClick spoke to drivers who are stranded on the highway from Jammu to Srinagar, and the truckers said that the police were brandishing lathis when they would approach them.
“The police would ask us to keep distance as we might be carriers of the virus, which we understand. However, they do not listen to us when we try and tell them that the shopkeepers will not sell to us. We have to walk a lot to reach the shops even to get rejected. They raise their lathis and ask us to stay inside the truck,” said Mohammad.
“The police have been abusing us as if we are animals,” added Tariq.
According to reports, the eateries, including dhabas, which truckers rely on for food, have been closed because of the lockdown. Shopkeepers refuse to sell them anything as they are apprehensive, adding to the truckers’ woes.
“Today, the police said that we will have to stay here for another month. Hunger and discomfort will kill us before the coronavirus. They should at least provide us with food and shelter. We are ready to cooperate,” said another driver.
The 21-day lockdown, imposed by the government to contain the novel coronavirus, has also hit truckers who now feel neglected by the government and the state administration. “We understand that it is important to contain the virus and the government has taken the right step. But they should have thought about us as well. They should have given us some time so that we could reach home,” said another driver.
According to the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training’s (IFTRT) estimates, around 5,00,00 drivers and their helpers had been reportedly stranded across India. It has been reported that even trucks carrying essential supplies have been stopped.
“We have fresh eggs in these trucks. We loaded them from Punjab after laying off apples near Delhi as we were not allowed to enter the capital owing to restrictions. The eggs will rot if we are not allowed to move in the next few days,” said Tariq.
Truck drivers across India would have similar stories to share in these times. For them, food and shelter has become a real challenge. Many of them are short of money and stare at an uncertain future. “We sleep in our trucks in discomfort. Hum tang aa gaye hain (We are frustrated),” said another driver.
Due to their long and often arduous journeys, they often keep some food stocked. “The food that we carried from home is over, and we are now completely dependent on the administration for our survival,” said Mohammad.
J&K Transport Welfare Association’s Chairman, T.S. Waziri said that the “sudden” lockdown by the Centre has “resulted in trucks being stranded at various places not just in Jammu and Kashmir but across India. The drivers are not getting food and water. They don’t have a place to sleep. For how long can they sleep in their trucks? Their goods are about to go to waste. We want the state administration and the central government to take cognisance of the issue and help the stranded drivers with food and accommodation.”