By the time the second lockdown ended, many migrant daily wagers were already jobless for almost two months. Many of the construction workers had no salaries since January. With no income to buy groceries and unable to pay rent in the city they had worked so far, they were anxious to go back to their villages. But there was no transportation due to continuing third lockdown. Many were willing to walk or ride even upto 2000 kilometers rather than stay as they could not find much help either from the employers, contractors, or even the Government.
After much pressure, the Government planned to run Shramik trains to different parts of the country. To travel by these trains, daily wage migrants could apply for a pass. They have to go to the nearest police station or the temporary shelters for registration. After they get registered, they wait at the shelter or return home until they hear that a train is scheduled. Before boarding the train, they undergo medical screening. Then they are taken to the railway station by bus.
This process is strenuous and confusing to many illiterate people. Naomi, a volunteer at the Manpho shelter, said, “I was shocked to see migrant workers, especially women and elderly men, didn’t even know their full names, let alone knowing which district they came from or what their birth date was.” This was the only option for those with families and elderly people.
These migrants were disoriented, hungry, and confused about their future. On top of that, many could not understand this process and mostly misinformed. Volunteers have found many come to the railway station directly from the nearby villages, not knowing what to do next. So they guided them to the shelters.
The unpredictable train schedule added to the confusion. Many times, unknown until a few hours before its departure, many trains were canceled at the last minute.
Fear, anxiety, and scarcity are the words to describe the plight of these migrants today. Usually, they are pretty tough people. It is sad to see them in this condition.
In Bangalore, Loving the migrant worker (LMW) group was serving breakfast to an average 2000 of migrant workers every day at different police stations and shelters. Other NGOs served them lunch and dinner. To a few, the breakfast we served was their first meal after three days.
Mercy Mission partnered with the Labour department to serve food packets to all the migrant travelers while boarding the train. Since this NGO is a Muslim organization, on Eid, which was on 23rd May, they could not mobilize enough volunteers. So, Umer asked Rahul George from the LMW group if he could mobilize volunteers.
Rahul, Anthony, and Gaurav immediately joined them at Bangalore Cantonment station, unloading heavy boxes, packing them in bags, and distributing them to passengers from 3pm until 9pm was exhausting work. Rahul is not an athlete. He had to take pain killers to volunteer the next day, which he did.
This began a collaboration that lasted over a 40-day period. Some of the LMW group volunteers continued to serve breakfast at the shelters and police stations. Some volunteered at the railway stations from late afternoons to midnight.
“The coordination between all these groups was beautiful.”
The most beautiful part was many individuals and groups from different religions, languages came together to serve the desperate migrants. Everyone inspired each other. Mercy Mission took a tremendous load of work with around eighty volunteers. United Sikhs joined the effort and did a fantastic job. For a few days, Satya Sai hospital volunteers joined at the Manpho shelter. Akshay Patra and Mahila Congress volunteers joined in for a few days at the City railway station.
Eric, a volunteer, said, “The coordination between all these groups was beautiful.” They never knew each other before, but they worked enthusiastically together. Many individuals without any banners or labels joined in and distributed snacks, toys, sanitary napkins, etc.
Any day there were around 120 to 150 volunteers. They were days when these volunteers distributed food for 5 trains back-to-back, which is close to 10,000 people. Naomi, a volunteer at the station, said. “After all the hard work, it was so satisfying to bid farewell as the train move, and see their happy faces finally on their way back to their villages.”
These volunteers were indeed the Good Samaritans. Eric mentioned, “Every volunteer had a sense of faith that they will be safe.” Everyone risked their lives for this. Only one volunteer was infected with the virus. We all prayed for him. Thank God he has recovered and is doing well now.
“Every volunteer had a sense of faith that they will be safe.”
These migrants were invisible to many of us all these years. This crisis has taught us that we are all equal, and we need to serve each other. Can this be a signpost for a compassionate new India? With courage, compassion, and sacrifice, can we follow their example to build our nation again?
Since the Shramik trains have temporarily stopped, the volunteers began serving food to the doctors and COVID patients at a few hospitals. Isn’t it time we all united in the same spirit of ‘loving our neighbors’ and joined this movement! Our nation needs this today than ever more.
Here is an other video by South Asia Monitor on facebook. https://www.facebook.com/145159485521825/posts/3148943605143383/
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Loving the Migrant Worker is a network of volunteers and NGOs across over 50 cities in India serving daily wagers and migrant workers who are on the move.