LUCKNOW: Their numbers are maddening — more than 32 lakh — and their stories as repetitive as their existence in the persistent Covid-19 virulence. Lockdowns forced them back to their villages in Uttar Pradesh, where their sustenance is in question and their anxieties about better livelihood are growing by the day.
Many have already started their journey back: Trains to Mumbai and Gujarat from Gorakhpur and Lucknow are running full and ads for cheap and direct bus services from east UP towns have started popping up on Facebook.
For its part, the government has skill-mapped most of them. More than 10 lakh migrant workers have been absorbed in the rural jobs scheme, MGNREGS.
Besides, the government has signed pacts with various industrial bodies such as IIA, Naredco and Ficci to provide 11 lakh jobs.
Plus, there is an assortment of offers under the newly launched PM Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana and interest-free loans to run enterprises.
But all that appears to be in a flux going by snatches of conversations with these young migrants of Unnao: Anuj Kumar (30): The food delivery man is back from Mumbai, digging pits 1,500 km away in Unnao. He earned over Rs 25,000 per month until lockdown became the order of the day.
Now, in his native village Kalu Khera, he works as a daily wager for the forest department and earns Rs 200 a day, not guaranteed for all 30 days.
In mid-May, Anuj along with eight others took their four mobikes to make the 1,500-km journey. Reaching home was the happiest moment of his life.
“Despite Mumbai being a costly city, I saved enough to send it home. But, here I can barely support myself,” he says.
This pandemic has taught me a lesson to not leave the family behind: Migrant
KULDEEP (19): The eldest of five siblings, he was based in Delhi employed with a tea packaging company. During lockdown, he decided to walk it to his Unnao village – a good 600 km trek.
“I am the sole breadwinner of my family. I will have to go back. But my parents are not letting me,” he says. A little piece of land has been a big support to Kuldeep. “There is shortage of food grain and we don’t have money in hand,” he says, repairing a road under
MGNREGA. LUVKUSH RAJ (25): The ice cream vendor in Andhra Pradesh returned to his Asha Khera village in mid-June by a Shramik Special train.
Raj has the responsibility of three younger brothers. Busy planting paddy in his land, he does not want to return to his workplace.
“I have this 1.5 bigha land. Once the situation normalises, I will try to take a small loan and start selling ice cream here in Unnao,” says Raj.
“I earned `600 per day in Andhra. I don’t have any savings,” he adds. “This pandemic has taught me a lesson - don’t leave the family behind.”
SADIQ (22): The boy from the mango-rich belt of Malihabad worked in Mumbai as a restaurant waiter owned by Mohammad Ashraf of Sultanpur.
“As Ashraf Bhai closed it down, I also came back. Since this is the mango season, I am selling the fruit, earning at least Rs 700- 800 daily. But after the season, I will have to think about going back,” says Sadiq.
RAMLAL SAHU (37): He returned to his village Sohramau in Unnao from Surat.
“The factory where I worked has informed me that it has reopened. So, I will go back as soon as possible,” says Sahu. On Covid-19 fear in Gujarat, Sahu says it is worth taking a risk.
SHIVMANGAL PRAJAPATI (34): The Maruti car worker from Manesar came back to his Bangarmau village during lockdown. He has made up his mind to go back to Manesar.
“It was a good job. I won’t be able to earn as much in Unnao. I have to give a decent life to my child,” says Prajapati.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)