17, Jun 2020 | CJP Team
27-year-old Munna Shaikh was a part of a group of 15 who lived in Bandra’s Shastri Nagar, a low-income neighbourhood that is home to hundreds of migrant workers who hail from various states. He had moved to Mumbai from Bihar 15 years ago. On May 19, a huge crowd had gathered in Bandra to catch a train to Bihar. Munna Shaikh and some of his friends somehow managed to board the train. It took them over 62 hours to reach Katihar, Bihar! He spoke to the CJP Team once he was home safe in his village Banskota Gobindpur, in Barsoi block of Katihar district.
“Currently I am under home quarantine. The situation here is the same as it is in Mumbai. In Mumbai at least there were people who distributed food, fruits, rations to us, but here we have to survive on our own,” says Shaikh wondering if he did the right thing by leaving Mumbai. “The Sarpanch is saying we haven’t got anything yet from the government so how can we help you?” He said this was also the reason they were kept in the state monitored quarantine center for only two days saying, “Even during those two days, we were not provided food, our families used to bring food for us.”
After the lockdown, many migrant labourers were forced to choose between two extremely difficult options; continue to stay in expensive cities where expenses kept mounting and income sources dried up, or go back home to their families in their villages, but face an uncertain economic future. While CJP has supplied rations and essentials to thousands of migrant labourers who both stayed on and some of those who left, our challenge is now, in a post lockdown solution, help find short and long term solutions, with them. Our series Migrant Diaries brings to you stories of the ordeals they were forced to face as they took an arduous journey back home, and some stories of those who stayed back. Please donate now to help our migrant brothers and sisters. CJP hopes to evolve collective solutions and programmes with them, in the coming weeks.
Shaikh and the others then asked to be allowed to go home. “We requested the Sarpanch to let us go home because Eid was approaching and we wanted to spend it with our families. He understood and told us to go to the nearest government hospital and get our health check done,” he says recalling being instructed to report to the Sarpanch and confirm they had no symptoms of Covid-19. They were asymptomatic and allowed to go home.
Coming back to the village during Ramzan, as well as Bakri Eid was a happy routine for Shaikh. He had returned to Mumbai after his last holiday in November 2019, with a plan to work continuously till Ramzan. He says, “Things were going smoothly and no one could have even thought that this would be the situation just after a few months.”
After the first phase of the national lockdown was announced Shaikh recalls that the village Sarpanch had sent Rs.500 to each migrant labourer who hailed from the same place. “Baba Siddiqui (Bandra-based politician) and some other people were distributing food in the first lockdown, but after the lockdown was extended our real struggle started. There were so many migrants, that the food being distributed was not enough for everyone. Sometimes we even slept on empty stomachs,” he recalls. “Then the CJP team came to us with ration kits, one for each person and after that we didn’t go anywhere. This ration kit lasted till I left from Mumbai, I am very thankful to CJP,” he says.
He misses the city he calls his second home a lot. “Mumbai has given me everything for so many years, I’ve never felt as if I was in another state,’he says. Tracing his life in Mumbai he says, “Initially I worked as a waiter in Yaadgaar Hotel in Bandra for three years, after that, for four years I did mason work at construction sites. For the last seven years I have been working as an autorickshaw driver.” He was the happiest to be his own boss at last., “At first I drove a rented auto rickshaw, but last year I did manage a loan to buy my own auto rickshaw. The loan repayment amount is Rs 5,023 per month,” he says even as he does the income vs expenditure arithmetic in his head. “I have lived in Mumbai, earned well enough to support my family back home. I have now seen how the current situation has affected many poor people because I stay with them. So many people were struggling for food which is a basic necessity. Personally this lockdown has led to losses worth almost Rs 70,000 so far. I don’t know how I will make up for this,” he says worried that even after things get back on track he has the loan amount to repay, “and the insurance company will never spare anyone.”
Now that he is stuck at home, his mind keeps wandering back to the ‘good old days in Mumbai’, though they are not so much in the distant past. “I used to earn 700 to 800 per day. In a month I managed to send around Rs 5,000 home to my family, and repaid the Rs 5023 EMI. Whatever remained went to pay for rent, food, auto maintenance, etc.”
He says his family had heard about the rising Covid-19 cases in Mumbai and wanted him to come home to them. “My family consists of my wife, parents, sister and my two daughters, the younger one is just 18 months old and the elder one is three years old. They were all so worried with this Covid-19 situation, and the only thing they kept saying was ‘do whatever you can do to come home,” he says of his family. They were feeling helpless as he was so far away from them and were worried sick. “They said if anything happened to me there in Mumbai, they won’t be able to do anything from Bihar. They were really very stressed and the news of increasing Covid-19 cases added more tension,” he recalls.
Shaikh had big dreams for his family, “I always thought of taking my wife and kids in Mumbai but the rent there is so expensive, which was the big reason I never took them there.” Instead, he was the one who went back, “It was announced in May, that migrants like me will be able to go home by filling the emergency travel form. So we filled out the form and submitted it at the police station, but we didn’t receive any call from them. Then, May 18, we got to know that there was a train to Jharkhand from Bandra Terminus. We went there, but the train had already left. The next morning some people told us there was a train leaving for Bihar from Bandra, but we had not received any calls from the police, still we decided to take a risk and go to the Bandra terminus,” he recalls how the news of the train to Bihar spread like wildfire. “Then slowly everyone got this news and there was a huge crowd which gathered at Bandra,the situation was soon out of control, and the police launched a lathi charge. Many people were injured, but it didn’t matter to any migrant because we just wanted to go home,” he recalls the fateful day.
People rushed towards Bandra Terminus and started boarding the train, “The police there also were egging us on. Once the train was full the police started hitting those who were still trying to get on. Four from my group managed to get on the train, and the rest were left behind, we were sad but we didn’t have any other choice. But eventually we got to know that those left behind had boarded another train on May 20. It was such a relief.”
It took them 62 hours to reach Katihar, Bihar! They traveled in a crowded compartment without any food, “We were only given a water bottle. Luckily I had carried some biscuits and chapatis with me, so I managed on that only.”
After reaching Katihar, they were screened for temperature and then taken to their village to be quarantined in the Panchayat school for two days. “I am now under home quarantine, and I am happy to be with my family. I am in touch with some of my friends in Mumbai. I want to go back and earn again, for my family otherwise it will get very difficult here,” he said. “I have kept my auto rickshaw at a parking lot which charges Rs 1,500 per month, so I am worried about that also, apart from the EMI payment,” he says. Even though he is home, Shaikh says he is tense more than he can explain, “I hope the Bihar government will give some money or ration so that we can survive.”