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Corona triggers Quit Delhi movement

Corona triggers Quit Delhi movement

A spectre is haunting Delhi, the spectre of coronavirus. It has made the national Capital look like a ghost city—well, almost. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown, most people are at home; very few are venturing out and even if they do, it is mainly for their daily needs.

But there are a lot of people on roads. They are all walking, leaving Delhi, the city that gave them their livelihoods.

I meet a group of migrant workers on National Highway 24 in Delhi. All young men, except a couple of middle-aged ones. They are 15 of them, sitting on the road, which is meant for fast-moving vehicles. All are visibly tired, sitting under the shade of a foot over-bridge.

They are coming from Chhatarpur, which is on the southern periphery of Delhi. They have already walked about 30 kilometres. But they have to walk more, much more actually, for their hometown, Bareilly, is over 200 kilometres away.

Akram, 30, is kind of heading the group. “We all are in the tailoring business. We are all daily wagers. The unit has shut down. We were paid till March 21 and some food grains,” he says.

But what will they do in Bareilly? “Let’s see. At least, we will be with our families,” he says.

Was there any succor for them? Did they get their wages paid for some time, as the Narendra Modi government urged employers to do?

“No,” all say in unison, but without any rancor. They don’t seem to be worried about any doles that didn’t come their way. It looks like they believe in the dictum ‘An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.’ They are without job and money, but not without dignity.

Akram informs me that they hope to get some transport from the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminus, which is about four kilometres away—a hope that gets belied as I discover a few minutes later.

The road from Anand Vihar to Mohan Nagar has the same scene: hordes of men, very few women, trekking with their meager belongings, most of which fitting into backpacks.

There is a camera team of some news channel, talking to the trekkers. There are some good Samaritans, giving away food and water.

I ask a young man in a small group of five persons, including an elderly person. He is Shiv Pal. “We hope to find some conveyance from Lal Kuan,” he says. Lal Kuan is a few kilometres away. No bus was plying from the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminus, he adds.

Where are they going? Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh. I know it’s very far away, for this is Ghaziabad, which is on UP’s western border, and UP is a big state. It is when I Google that I come to know that the distance is over 800 kilometres.

Shiv Pal and his group will have to walk a lot.