‘Not Without My Cycle’: How 4 Migrants Took Home Their Prized Item
This story is about how four migrants, who despite their vulnerable position, refused to give up on their cycles.
"I spent Rs 4,000 to buy this cycle, madam. Only I know how I arranged this money. If they want to send us to Bihar by these trains, then alright, we would go. But only if our cycles go with us."
Four construction workers were stopped by UP police on the Ghaziabad border and told they would be dropped home by special trains, however, they refused to part with the cycles they had recently bought. Shashi, Anil, Mohreel and Vinod had left their one-room accommodations from Delhi's Rohini area to take a journey of over 1,100 kilometers to Bihar's Banka district on 18 May. However their migration back to their village came to an abrupt end after a few hours.
This left them in a predicament. They did not entirely trust the claim of being dropped home by the government. They had turned cautious after hearing about the experiences of thousands being turned away from railway stations, many of them their friends . It was to tackle this very uncertainty, that their families had sent them money to buy these cycles so they could peddle back home.
This story is about the resolve of these four migrant workers, who despite the vulnerable position they were in, did not give up on taking their cycles with them.
‘We Even Exhausted Our Coins’
"It started with us exhausting every last coin we had at home. Then we asked our contractor for Rs 1,000 so we could eat two meals a day, but he did not give us any money. Surviving every day became harder and harder. After spending days without eating we decided we needed to leave this city," 34-year-old Shashi tells The Quint from Ghaziabad's Ramlila Maidan, where migrants who were to return to Bihar were lining up for registrations.
They asked their families for money, all of whom took loans on interests, reversing the trend for the first time in years. “Generally we would be the ones sending them money, now we were asking them for money to survive in the city,” 33-year-old Mohreel said.
Shashi adds how even after the money was transferred to his contractor's account, the man took three days to give it to him, "He made me wait. I had to keep begging him to give me the money for three days. I got tired and even told him he could take a cut of the money if he wanted. It was only after that that the money was finally given to me.”
While Shashi has three children and a wife waiting at home, 28-year-old Vinod, who is unmarried, has ailing parents who can not work. "I felt ashamed asking my parents for money. They do not work at all. I would be the one sending them money from the city, not the other way around. But I had no choice," he said.
After asking his parents for money, Vinod waited, "I knew they were trying. It took a few days for them to put the money together. They said they have taken a loan from the landlord in the village. That I will have to go meet him once I return. He has fields, may be I could work there? Lets see. There is no returning to the city for work for at least a year now," he says.
As days passed all four, who knew each other from back home, had the money they needed to buy cycles.
While Shashi and Mohreel bought first hand cycles for Rs 4,000, Vinod and Anil spent Rs 2,500 each on second-hand cycles. Thinking about their families, they picked up the bare minimum they needed like a few clothes, some bedsheets, a bottle of water and readied to leave.
'Get Off Your Cycles'
Mohreel who has three children waiting for him at home said if they wanted to survive they needed to go back, "We were hearing that the borders were open, so we thought we would get on a cycle and go. We packed a bed for us with some sheets and decided we would somehow arrange food for ourselves on the way. But when we got to the UP border, we were told it was closed,"
A policeman waved to the four of them to get off their cycles. He then asked them where they were going. The moment they said they were going to Banka district in Bihar, the policeman asked them to sit on the side of the pavement and wait. "As we looked around we found hundreds of people, many of them Biharis, standing under the flyover or sitting next to the pavement waiting to go home. There were kids, old people and so many others. The crowd kept swelling. Many who were on buses were also being asked to get off. They said there will be trains for us but they did not tell us where and when. We just waited as the policemen tried to handle the crowd," Mohreel continues.
The four of them held onto their cycles and looked towards the commotion. Most around them did not have a vehicle, so they felt blessed that they did. "Even if they follow up on their word and drop us to Bihar, it will obviously not be to our homes. We will have to go from Patna or the border ourselves right? So we will use our cycles and go home," Anil said, unaware of the 14-day quarantine period he will have to observe once he reaches Bihar. With two kids at home, one girl and another boy, he had planned to peddle as fast as he possibly could to see them. He was also in talks with those in the village to help him get some work soon.
'Won't Leave Without Our Cycles'
As they kept hearing the police say they will be asked to go by bus or train, the four of them took turns to speak to police officers and requesting them to allow them to take their cycles along. "We can somehow dismantle the cycle and tie it in a bag if that is what they want. Then we will keep it with us on our seat and hold onto it. Even if they drop us outside of Uttar Pradesh, we will peddle hundreds of kilometers to our homes in Bihar," Mohreel said.
But the policemen were not as sensitive to what these four men wanted. "They are saying it will not be possible. That we must leave our cycles behind with someone here. Who do we leave it with? There is no here who we can trust. We have put so much money into it. Our families have taken loans. What do we do?," they all asked.
Vinod who has ailing parents, tried to sincerely explain to the police why he needed the cycle, "We will have to work in the village now. Find some work on someone's land or do MGNREGA work. All this happens a few kilometers away from home. If we have a cycle we will be able to travel for work,” he told them. Adding that, “I do not know if we will return for another year or so. I do not have the money to buy another cycle, I am already in debt, why can I not take this along with me?," he asks. He is aware he needs to start repaying the money once he returns.
While this reporter left after speaking to them on 18 May, they were still unsure if they will be able to go themselves.
However on 22 May, they called The Quint from a quarantine centre in Bihar's Banka district sounding elated! They said they had managed to get their cycles on the buses and trains that they had to take to finally reach the quarantine centre in the district. "In the first bus ride to the railway station, we kept asking them to let us load the cycle on the roof. Which they agreed to. Similarly on the train, after a lot of back and forth they allowed us to keep the cycles in the middle of the two bogies," Shashi said. Mohreel took the phone and added, "There were times when we reached a new destination and the policeman from there would ask why we had taken our cycles along and who gave us permission. So we would be a little curt and tell them we have gotten it along as it is our possession and we want it with us. They would look at us with crinkled brows and then stop saying anything," he heaved a sigh of relief.
They're at a quarantine centre close to home, counting down the 14 days till they can peddle their way home just like they and their families had envisioned in mid-May.
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