Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
“Let us go to our villages, we will do anything there. It’s okay even if we die in our villages but here we don’t have even one rupee in our pockets. We can’t survive like this.”
Migrant workers in Surat, who were stranded due to the nationwide lockdown, have been coming out on the streets to protest. Their demand?
“Give us food or let us go home.”
Not just in Surat, protests have broken out in many big cities where hundreds of migrant labourers have been craving to go home. After the first lockdown was announced by PM Narendra Modi, thousands tried to walk long kilometres back to their villages but soon the inter-state borders were sealed.
The labourers had to stay back in the cities and towns, with uncertainty over getting food, fear of falling sick without a rupee in their pockets and a sense of betrayal towards the government that promised aid.
Since the first protest in Surat on 30 March when 93 people were held for defying lockdown and attacking policemen, many have questioned the motives behind so many people gathering at one place demanding to be sent back home.
We spoke to some of the migrant labourers who work in the textile industries in Surat to know why they want to get home.
‘Not Sure When We’ll Get the Next Meal’
Sonu Singh, a migrant labourer from Uttar Pradesh, said:
We are having to stand in queue for 4 hours each time. And even after that, some may or may not get food. If food gets over and you go to ask, they say now we won’t get anything.
Radheshyam, another migrant labourer who managed to reach the top of the queue and take back a plate of rice from the NGO volunteer distributing food in his area, said:
“Today, we got some food. We can fill our stomachs today. But what will happen tomorrow? We don’t even have any money in our pockets to go buy some ration.”
He added, “Where does food come everyday? It doesn't come everyday. Even if food trucks come, we get some rice and some vegetables. We don't get anything else. That too they come once a day, around 5 PM.
Surat ACP, CK Patel said, “The govt has already made arrangements for food and in some areas, we have also taken help of NGOs to distribute food.”
'How Long Can Someone Live Like This?’
Sonu’s friends who have waiting in line for the past 2 hours to get food, said, “When they were locking everything down, if they had told us we could have all gone home. Sometimes they say everything will open on 14 April, sometimes they say it will open on 3 May. How does anyone live like that? Nobody has saved so much money.”
‘My Employer Said He’ll Pay My Wages Only When Lockdown Lifts
“What do I do? I have no way to even go home.”
A dejected Gurubhai, yearning for his home in Odisha, further said,”My employer is not giving me my wages. He is saying I will be paid only after lockdown lifts. If my employer doesn't give me money, how do I feed myself?”
‘Where is the Rs 1,000 We Were Promised by the Govt?’
A sense of betrayal by the government added to the woes of these migrant workers who depend on daily wages for their survival. Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani had promised to provide Rs 1,000 for the month of April to the families of labourers, unorganised workers, construction workers, house-helps in the state, according to a IANS report.
Sonu Singh said:
The government says Rs. 1,000 has been deposited in every bank account. All the labourers who are here have their bank accounts in their villages. And nobody here, till date, has received even Re. 1. We checked our ATMs. Nobody has received money. How can they say like that?
With the second phase of lockdown underway, there are more than 10 lakh migrant workers from different industries who are stuck and stranded in Surat, longing to go home.
On 19 April, the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed movement of labourers within a state with certain conditions. Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, however, made it clear that there will be no inter-state movement of workers during the lockdown, which has been extended till May 3.
(With inputs from Manish and Sadiq in Surat.)