With the lockdown came joblessness. Migrant workers on daily wages found themselves without work and money. Then came the need to head home to their villages in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal. A hut would be better than life on the streets in Delhi and other cities. With no buses and trains, entire families began walking undaunted by the hundreds of kilometres they would have to trudge.
Pictures by: Shrey Gupta
To cut the embarrassment, the UP government announced it would send 1000 buses to pick up the migrants who then began turning up in huge numbers at the inter-state bus terminal at Anand Vihar and the Delhi-UP border at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad. By some estimates around 15,000 arrived at Anand Vihar in Delhi, jostling and pushing their way around.
Chaos broke out every time a precious bus arrived. People ran to grab a bit of space inside. The ones who couldn’t squeeze in, climbed to the top of the bus. Children were crammed in through the windows of the bus. Women got pushed aside. Very few buses came during the day. Late last night buses began to arrive from UP.
Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal appealed to migrant workers to stay back, assuring them of food and shelter. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia went to the interstate bus terminal to dissuade migrant workers from leaving. But workers had their reasons. They couldn’t pay the landlord. There was no work. What if they got sick due to the coronavirus? So the Delhi government provided buses till the UP border.
A policeman hands out bottles of water to migrant workers. The 21-day lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a mammoth exodus of migrant workers from India’s cities. This long march home by millions of migrant workers is unprecedented in India’s history.