A group of Rajasthani migrants, who made a living for years doing odd jobs near Borivali, suddenly face an uncertain future after the lockdown.
Pre-lockdown, they easily earned between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000 per day per head, which was sufficient for their basic needs and sending money back home to their families in villages in Jaisalmer.
"Our savings are almost over; NGOs give us basic meals, but at times we have even slept hungry. We don't know when all this (Lockdown 3.0) will end. We have lost faith in the Central government, so we have decided to walk back to Rajasthan," said Bipin Morya, apparently unfazed by the 1,100 km journey awaiting them.
From March 25, thousands of migrants have been walking on the roads daily, from various points out of Mumbai and state borders to go to their home states in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana and Karnataka.
At the five Mumbai entry points in Dahisar, Airoli, Thane, Mulund and Vashi, daily hordes clutching their bare necessities in small bags or rucksacks, women carrying infants or minor kids in tow, many without proper slippers, brave the scorching summer heat to turn their backs on the city of their livelihood.
Others prefer to take it cool, travelling after sundown and with the recent heart-change of the Maharashtra Police, they escape the policemen's wrath or 'danda' to walk off peacefully on their long paths.
"I spent two hours today to buy some food for my wife and three kids, but got only 'sev-kurmura' and 'vada paavs'. It will suffice us for 25 hours, after that, God will take care of us. We can't depend on the government now," said Ranjeet Yadav, a 'paanwala', in a tearing hurry at Airoli, bound for his native village in Vaishali district in Bihar.
"Forget migrants, even people from other states who live and work in Mumbai are fleeing as they can't afford to pay rents. Hundreds of groups gather near the P. D'Mello Road and start walking along the Eastern Freeway. We provide them with basic food and water, but the numbers are simply overwhelming," Mumbai Congress minority cell vice-chairman Mudassar Patel told IANS.
Rakesh Upadhyaya, an activist, said that through various community organizations, they have given food and temporary accommodation to the migrants.
"The bigger problem is that they have lost jobs, ran out of money and are desperate to return to their families. They are prepared to brave any suffering enroute, but are not willing to stay back even for an hour. Corona ho ya na ho, Hum to ghar jayenge is their resolve," Upadhyaya said.
"In the past couple of days, I saw over 2,000 groups trudging along the Western Express Highway bound for Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana. Many of them diverted on the Ghodbunder Road towards the Thane-Nashik route to go to MP, UP, Bihar. Their condition is pitiable, many had no proper footwear, hardly any food or water," said MRCC general secretary V.P. Singh.
Accusing the government of implementing the lockdown as "disastrously" as the demonetization, Singh said the government should have given 'a clear one week' to migrants to return to their homes before locking down the country.
"At that time, the coronavirus had not spread so much. Now the situation is terrible as also the plight of the migrants. If a weeklong window had been provided before the lockdown, all this could have been avoided," Singh pointed out.
Navi Mumbai Bharatiya Janata Party corporator Munawar Patel said that though local migrants have been taken care of, thousands daily cross over from Mumbai to walk down to MP, UP and Odisha.
"We could convince many migrants to stay back and housed them in local shelters, but we don't know for how long. They want to start earning their living, but there is the lockdown," said a worried Patel.
There are similar tales of migrants at the state borders heading for Gujarat, MP, Telangana, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh with the local administrations, NGOs and social activists struggling to take care of them amid the Covid-19 scare.
Though most walk and walk, occasionally their tired feet get a leg-up in the form of short-haul rides in trucks or tempos or tractors with the single aim—ghar-wapsi to their near and dear ones, at any cost!.