“At night, the mosquitoes haunt us and at noon, the heat won’t let us sleep," says Vikas, one of the migrant workers at the camp.

Giving us food not enough Migrant workers in Hyderabad speak longingly of home
Coronavirus Coronavirus Saturday, April 18, 2020 - 11:58

In the cacophony of people chatting while having lunch, Tulsi Ram’s music dominates the camp. To beat the blues, Tulsi Ram is trying to catch some sleep while listening to 'Banna re bagho me' from the Bollywood film Ganga Ki Kasam. The song is playing from the phone that's placed on his chest.

Tulsi Ram is among the 350 migrant workers stranded in Hyderabad, Telangana, who have been sheltered at a relief camp in Nampally exhibition grounds. The makeshift camp is run by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and maintained by the Hyderabad police. 

The camp houses migrants from several states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Some of them are from the neighbouring country of Nepal, too. These workers were employed in restaurants, catering services and construction work among others. 

The stay at the camp has been depressing for them, they say. For 350 persons, there are only four toilets in working condition and these are not clean either. The camp is an open ground with a tin roof and a carpet to sleep on.

Deprived of any source of entertainment, these migrant workers rely on phones, play cards or just chat with each other to while away their time. Vikas, one of the workers, puts it succinctly: “At night, the mosquitoes haunt us and at noon, the heat won’t let us sleep. We're sleep deprived...the sadness of missing our homes, eating undercooked food, that’s how our stay here is."

“It is depressing that we have to stay like this,” says 27-year-old Kumar. Kumar is a resident of Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh. He visits Hyderabad every three months to do manual labour. He makes some money and goes back home. However, owing to the national lockdown in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Kumar hasn't been able to go home. He was staying at a lodge in Narayanaguda, Hyderabad. After exhausting his money, he was forced to sleep on the roads like the other workers before the police shifted them to the camp on March 23.

Kumar, who has been calm all this while, is now uncertain about how he can hold on till May 3, when the lockdown is expected to be lifted.

“Our parents are worried about us. If something happens to them, we can’t go and if something happens to us, they can’t come. This is making us anxious,” Kumar laments.

He says that the government should arrange transportation for them.

“People here are depressed. Many of them have the habit of smoking, drinking and chewing tobacco. Now they are deprived of it and this is compounded with the pain of not being with their closed ones during such a crisis. It is affecting their mental health,” Kumar observes. 

Rakesh, a native of Vijayawada, adds, “The food is not good here. Why can’t we just go home?”

Rakesh is tired of the queues at the camp. “There is a queue to use the toilet, a queue for food. A queue for everything?” he exclaims.

Explaining their plight, he says, “We have to wake up at 4 am to avoid long queues to use the toilet. Then to get the food, we have to wait in long queues for almost half an hour or more.”

Physical distancing in the camp is more of a bureaucratic procedure. Circles have been marked a few metres apart in the line leading to the food counter. The residents are supposed to maintain distance to avail the food while they sleep and stay together following no such precautionary measures. It seems cruel to expect physical distancing from them when they just have each other for company, they say.

Pointing at a man, Kumar says, “I didn’t know this brother before, now we got to know each other here. They too work hard to feed their family. We discuss the hardships of our life.” 

In the camp, the residents are provided with three meals every day. Initially, the camp had more than 500 persons and due to the overcrowding, 140 of them were shifted to another camp in Chaderghat. With the help of donors, the authorities have also arranged for clothes, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste,  bedsheets etc.

The authorities are satisfied with their efforts in keeping the workers fed and taking care of them. However, the workers are displeased that the government is not providing them any financial aid. The government has been providing migrant labourers a sum of Rs 500 and 12 kg of rice to sustain themselves but those at the camp are exempted from this.

“They don’t have families here. We are providing them with three meals a day, clothes and bedsheets. So, they don’t require any money,” claims Radha Rani, Project Officer at Goshamahal Circle, Urban Community Development.

The workers are uncertain about their travel back home when the lockdown ends.

“We have spent all our money,” says Shyam, a native of Nagpur. Shyam was working at a dhaba on the Kurnool-Hyderabad highway. He had Rs 1,200 with him and had to take care of two others. He hired a truck to go back home. However, the police stopped the truck at the Shamshabad checkpost and shifted them to the camp. “Now, we don’t have any money. Either the government should provide us with some money or make some travel arrangement to us,” Shyam says. 

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