‘Brought Back Haunting Memories’: Migrant Workers Watch ‘1232 KMs’

In ‘1232 KMs’, filmmaker Vinod Kapri tailed 7 migrant workers as they cycled to Bihar during the lockdown. 

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Camera: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

“Bring toys, Kurkure and chocolates for us, Papa,” Ashish Kumar’s children back in Bihar would repeatedly urge him, even as he undertook an audacious journey of cycling over 1,232 kilometres to from Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad to Bihar’s Saharsa in April 2020.

One of the seven migrant workers tailed by Vinod Kapri in his latest work titled ‘1232 KMs’, Kumar would frequently speak with his family on call. Each time Kumar’s children would demand, he would readily agree to get whatever they wanted, – even though he himself had little food in stomach, let alone money in pocket.

“They would ask me to get toffees for them and I would always keep their hopes alive. Upon reaching home, I didn’t have any money left and I borrowed Rs 10 from my friends and gave it to my children.”
Ashish Kumar.

Such is the tragic tale of those like Kumar, who were trapped – often surviving on just water – after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown towards the close of March 2020.

A year later, they saw their own journey on screen for the first time, at a special screening organised by Kapri on 26 March 2021.

‘Fell Unconscious, But Didn’t Tell Family’

Recalling the day lockdown was announced, Ram Babu, a construction worker and one of the seven who had left on cycle for Bihar, says that initially, they had thought that it’s going to last just one day.

“The next day we found out that the lockdown has been imposed for 21 days. We are daily wage laborers, we didn't have money with us,” he says.

When days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Babu and others labourers dependent on daily wage, started to run out of money and food and thought it was better to die on the way home than die of hunger in Ghaziabad.

But the journey wasn’t an easy one – Mukesh Pandit, a migrant worker from Bihar was cycling at night on the third day, when he fell unconscious and crashed by the roadside.

After he regained conscious, he resumed cycling and never mentioned word about the incident to his family.

“I didn’t tell my family members. People at home would have been worried and cried, had I told them about it. I controlled myself and didn’t let the matter reach them.”
Mukesh Pandit.

No Solace in Bihar

After cycling for over six days, when the seven finally crossed over to Bihar from UP, there was a feeling of happiness – a feeling of having returned to one’s own home. Unfortunately, problems followed them in Bihar as well. Upon entering Bihar, the seven were taken to a quarantine centre, where they were not served food for over 40 hours.

Ritesh, a construction worker, said “we thought that after covering such a long distance, reaching home wouldn't be difficult. In UP, at least we got some help, but in our own state, we didn't receive any help. In Bihar, we went hungry for almost 40 hours.”

How Did the Pandemic Change Things?

Ram Babu: “We lost our hard-earned savings. Whatever credit I had taken had doubled during the lockdown. While there was no income during lockdown, the interest on my borrowings didn't stop and kept accumulating. If the lockdown didn't happen I would have repaid my debts long back.”

Mukesh Pandit: “I don't think of returning to Delhi. I had to cycle home to Bihar and I fear that there could be another lockdown. This is why I don't want to work here or even return to this city.”

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