New Delhi: A few hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extension of the countrywide lockdown till May 3, thousands of stranded migrants landed up at Bandra station in Mumbai, scrambling to go back home. The teeming crowd, defying the PM’s appeal for social distancing, was dispersed by the police, followed by an appeal by the Maharashtra government that all needs of migrants would be taken care of.
In Thane’s Mumbra, too, hundreds migrant workers took to the streets , demanding that they be sent to their hometowns in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, which had rendered them jobless.
Reports also poured in from Surat in Gujarat, where hundreds of migrant textile workers again took to the streets, demanding they be sent home now that the lockdown had been extended.
The workers, mostly from Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, who live in rented accommodations, claimed that houseowners were demanding rent from them and they were unable to procure essentials. Most of them are daily or casual workers.
The workers are demanding some kind of transportation to their hometowns amid the COVID-19 lockdown, which has brought their lives to a standstill.
Tuesday’s incidents in Maharashtra follow a few days after a similar one in Surat, Gujarat, where thousands of textile workers are stranded after the sudden lockdown on March 24, bringing trains and buses to a halt. Left without jobs, income and food, these migrants want to go back to their native places as many of them have their names on ration cards back home.
The chaos in Bandra took place at around 4 p.m, when hundreds of workers from mainly western region of Mumbai started reaching Bandra Terminus.
When the Railway Police and later Mumbai Police asked them that why they are coming, some of them said they had heard that trains would be running to different states. The police and the community leaders announced that there won't be trains from Bandra or anywhere but crowd was not ready to go.
Some of the people there told NewsClick that many members of the crowd were saying that they had received information on their mobile phones about the trains.
Also, there was a piece of paper doing the rounds in WhatsApp groups about Railways surveying to take workers to their home states. (Paper is attached.)
Blaming the incidents on some confusion on restarting of trains, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the migrant workers who gathered outside Bandra railway station might have expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would order reopening of state borders.
However, State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Centre for the protest by the migrant workers and sought a roadmap to facilitate their journey back to their native places.
"They don't want food or shelter, they want to go back home," Thackeray said. He said feedback from all migrant labour camps is similar - that these workers want to go back to their native places.
One of the labourers, who did not reveal his name, told PTI, said NGOs and local residents were providing food to migrant workers, but they want to go back to their native states during the lockdown which has badly affected their source of livelihood.
"Now, we dont want food, we want to go back to our native place, we are not happy with the announcement (extending the lockdown)," he said, looking dejected.
Asadullah Sheikh, who hails from from Malda in West Bengal, told PTI, We have already spent our savings during the first phase of the lockdown. We have nothing to eat now, we just want to go back at our native place, the government should made arrangements for us.
The moment videos of the surging crowds in Bandra started flooding the social media, Right wing trolls began giving the incident a communal colour. It may be recalled that, aided by sections of the mainstream visual media, the COVID-19 pandemic is being given a communal colour since the Nizamuddin incident of the Tablighi Jamaat.
However, many people questioned the Centre as to why special trains and buses could not be arranged for migrant workers, if special flights could be arranged for the well-off.
Meanwhile, drilling a hole into BJP’s accusation of ‘failure’ of the Maharashtra government, hundreds of workers once again came out in Surat, Gujarat, demanding that they be sent home, as per reports.
“More than 500 migrant workers gathered in Surat’s Varachha area demanding that they be allowed to return their home. They are migrants employed in textiles embroidery units in Surat.”, read a tweet by journalist Mahesh Langa.