Helpless, and home bound

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 27

On the deserted roads of Delhi, a ragtag convoy of cycle rickshaws is certainly out of the ordinary. Carrying almost 40 men who take turns in pedalling, this fleet is headed all the way to Saharsa in Bihar, almost 1,100 km away. Without food ever since the lockdown was announced on the night of March 23, this group had its first morsel today, thanks to a Good Samaritan who fed them rice and dal.

Edit: Plight of labourers

The group, mainly of workers from Saharsa and a couple from Darbhanga, worked with a transporter in Delhi and would cook and sleep on the pavement outside the company’s office. With the premises barred and the police asking them to clear off, they held a counsel among themselves and decided to risk all for the comfort of their villages, even if it will take them by their reckoning a week.

The youngest of the lot, Shyam Kumar Yadav, is the most confident about pedalling all the way to Supaul Bazar in Darbhanga while the middle-aged Maheshwar Rai talks about taking shelter in gurdwaras; none, however, has heard of the government’s social security package for the poor and the vulnerable.

This is the story all over Delhi. The migrant labour is stoic but many among the lower middle class refuse to allow their travails to be videotaped; their dreams of a better life in Delhi having already crashed, a viral video of them trudging through the streets of Delhi would be adding salt to injury. A young couple lugging a suitcase refused to give their names but said they were hopeful of traversing a 10-km flyover to reach Mathura Road and from there chance their luck to Agra, 240 km away. Another couple encountered near Mandi House refused to talk.

A group of five has walked for two hours and is fearful of a police picket on the DND Flyway across the Yamuna. “Will they let us go? All we want to do is go to my hometown,” says one from the group which was thrown out of the sweet shop where it worked and lived. Their destination is Farrukhabad in UP and their hopes of reaching by the next day rest on a lorry driver giving them lift surreptitiously.

Luckier is another group that is headed for Delhi’s adjacent district of Ghaziabad. With a half bottle of consumed cola in his hand, Ankit’s crowd is not as downbeat as the group from Farrukhabad. But both groups were engaged in discussions to jointly march past the police naka half a km away, onwards to their villages they had left to chase dreams in Delhi. Doctors may prescribe social distancing, but for poortogetherness is strength.

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