26, Jun 2020 | CJP Team
Sagar Ali, a daily wage labourer, had returned to Mumbai from his village in West Bengal just a week before the national lockdown was imposed. He had yet to get back into his work routine, had no money, and no stock of ration for his family. At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in March itself, Ali was struggling to make ends meet.
“I hail from Majhida in Birbhum, and have been working in Mumbai as a helper and daily wage labourer. For the past four years, I have had a steady job, and worked as a helper at a construction store, earning Rs 13,500. My wife is a domestic worker and earns Rs 4,000 per month. We send Rs 3,000 to my younger brother and mother who live in the village. My younger brother works as a labourer in Birbhum but the work is not regular, so I have to take care of their needs too, as I am the eldest son. My younger sister got married last year,” says the 31-year-old for whom family always comes first.
In Mumbai, Ali stayed with his father but he passed away almost eight years ago. “Then I started staying with other migrants from West Bengal, and brought my wife and 7-year-old son to live with me four years ago,” he tells us. The young family lives rent-free as the colony does not charge migrants. Ali’s son had been enrolled in a boarding school in West Bengal. “It which charged Rs 4,000 per month but I got to know that they didn’t take proper care of children, so I brought my son with me to Mumbai. I wanted to enrol him in an English medium school in Mumbai, and enquired at a couple of schools but realised they were asking for huge fees so I decided to enroll him in BMC school,” says Ali, though he does not regret this decision at all. He just wants his son to get a good education.
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.
However, the real shock was that of the lockdown hitting the family just as they had returned to town after a trip back home, Ali says his ‘bad luck’ is to blame. “I had no clue that such a thing would happen. I had only carried Rs 1200 with me while returning from the village, I knew I was going to rejoin my work soon. I had no tension as even my wife is employed as a domestic worker and she was also going to rejoin work.”
When the family returned, they bought some ration for Rs 1,000 and were left with Rs 200 rupees. Nothing to worry, they thought, they will be back at work soon and the wages will be paid soon, maybe they could take an advance if needed. But all plans vapourised in the Mumbai heat the minute the lockdown was announced without any notice. “We were scared of what would happen next? How will we manage without money,” Ali recalled that the ration they we had stocked lasted for 20 days. “After that the real struggle started. I got to know that from our village the sarpanch is going to arrange a ration supply, I gave my family’s names but we didn’t receive any ration from them,” he says.
He then approached CJP volunteers. “I got ration twice from CJP, once in May, and again in June,” says Ali adding that the family also collected cooked food occasionally being distributed in their area by individuals. “I am so thankful to CJP for helping the poor. The government should have provided us with ration, and money, to survive in this situation. They just say we are giving a package worth lakhs and crores, but it never reaches the poor. During this period, I even did cleaning work at some houses and because I needed money, I earned Rs 800 from that and I sent Rs 500 to my brother in the village, and kept Rs 300, for emergencies. I have never experienced such a situation in my life,” he says. Ali says he even got a call from someone to inform him there were shelter homes being set up for migrants but he said he had a home, and just needed food to survive. “I asked for some food to be arranged, but they said they could not do that,” his voice falls as he recalls that conversation.
“In May the trains were going to start, I filled the emergency travel form and even had a medical screening done for my family, I paid Rs 900 for that. I had to borrow money from my boss but till now I haven’t received any call from any official,” he says he does not know what the authorities have arranged now. Even as he saw most migrants left by bus and truck, Ali said he felt helpless, “I also wanted to go but as I said I had no money at all, so going home was not possible.” As news of accidents and deaths of migrants who were travelling came in, Ali’s wife did not even want to take a risk. She said, “We will stay in Mumbai and survive somehow, but I don’t want to go by truck.” Ali stayed on with a little help, “I called the CJP volunteers and requested more ration, we got ration kits on which we are surviving till now.”
Sagar Ali has given up all plans of going back to the village for now, as the lockdown restrictions are slowly lifting. “Things are getting normal and my boss said our store will open soon. That’s a relief now and I have to earn and send money to my mother too, returning to the village is of no use now. Living in Mumbai is better, if anything happens here, we can at least go to nearby government hospitals,” he says the city has health facilities and things are worse off in his village, “there, the hospital staff don’t give us much importance.”
He only has one prayer for the near future, “I am just hoping that a lockdown should not be imposed again, because I hear news that a complete lockdown may be imposed again because of increasing cases of Covid-19. If it happens then I don’t know how we will manage to survive. CJP already has given us ration kits twice and calling CJP again will not be good, I am sure because the organisation must be having its own limitations,” he signs off with concern for those who are concerned for him.