The Karnataka government on Thursday decided to restart special trains for migrant workers stranded in the state to be taken back to their native places. However, hundreds of migrant workers in Bengaluru have already begun the long walk home.
Shivam Yadav, 30, woke up on Thursday morning with one purpose - to pack his belongings and start walking from Bengaluru to Gorakhpur, a distance of over 2,000 kilometres.
"I heard on the news that trains for us (migrant workers ) were cancelled yesterday. Then we decided to start walking and see if we can get a lift at the Andhra Pradesh border,â€ť says Shivam, who works as a painter in Marathahalli in Bengaluru.
He had walked 34 km in the afternoon heat before he decided to take rest just beyond Yelahanka.
â€śWe filled online forms and everything, when we went to the police station, we found that there was no arrangement. We have paid 100 rupees to buy this form,â€ť Shivam says.
Like Shivam, hundreds of migrant workers from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal decided to start walking from Bengaluru on Thursday.
"We don't know when we will reach or if we will find anyone who will give us a lift. But we know that there is no work or food here. So what does a person do then?" asks Upendra Moria, a carpenter from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.
Along the national highway from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, the workers made slow progress through the day, often stopping to catch a break from the blistering heat or to try and hitch a ride from a truck headed their way.
Just around the Yelahanka Air Force Station, some of the workers with Shivam hitched a ride on a truck headed towards Andhra Pradesh. The driver says he was taking an empty truck and was travelling in the same direction the workers were.
More migrant workers managed to hitch a ride on this truck transporting sand headed towards the Andhra Pradesh border. Truck driver says, "I saw a lot of people walking along the highway. Out of humanity I want to take them around 70 km on the way I am going " pic.twitter.com/x1pbcxmz3Sâ€” Prajwal (@prajwalmanipal) May 7, 2020
Many like Shivam are walking towards Yelahanka in the hopes of hitching rides on goods carriers leaving the city. 28-year-old Amarnath, who works as a carpenter in Bengaluru, is walking with a small group of people towards Uttar Pradesh.
â€śWhat else can we do but walk? There are no other means for us from here. If there is no ration, nor any work. Yesterday news channels were showing that trains have been cancelled and no migrant has been allowed to leave, so we have decided to walk home. We are trying to hitch a ride from passing-by vehicles,â€ť Amarnath says.
â€śWe donâ€™t have any food and water. We are just walking with the clothes on our backs. If the government helps us, if they would have paid us for the past month, that would have been better. We want to go back to our families. We request the government help us go home,â€ť he adds.
A carpenter from Bengaluru has set out to walk thousands of kilometres to reach his home in Uttar Pradesh. He is not alone. Hundreds of migrant workers have begun walking towards states like UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. They've heard the news that trains have been cancelled. pic.twitter.com/IHMWmugQbDâ€” Prajwal (@prajwalmanipal) May 7, 2020
A police checkpost is located 200-500m ahead of the Yelahanka Air Force station. Constables of the Chikkajala police station, who have been posted there, tell TNM that they have been here all morning and around 100 migrant workers have walked up to the spot. Many workers walked from places like Ramamurthy Nagar, Yelahanka and even as far as Ramnagar. Many of them were escorted back to where they came from by the police in a special vehicle arranged for them. But officials at the checkpost say many of them managed to cross the post by climbing onto trucks and taking a different route.
"We felt bad looking at so many people coming here walking. They were sent back in autos and police vehicles as they came. They told us stories of how their owners had left them without any help,â€ť Rajesh, one of the constables, says.
Ramesh and Rajesh, constables attached to Chikkajala Police Station say they are at a check post set up in Yelahanka. They've met around 100 migrant workers so far who have been sent back to their homes in police vehicles. "Some have gone past in trucks and tempos", they say. pic.twitter.com/PJYEicHNZkâ€” Prajwal (@prajwalmanipal) May 7, 2020
But with owners asking them to vacate their home and the police asking them to go back to where they were, the workers find themselves in a difficult predicament.
There are still some workers asking police to allow them to walk past the check post. Listen to Kamlesh Kumar from UP. pic.twitter.com/98A26zgR6Pâ€” Prajwal (@prajwalmanipal) May 7, 2020
On Thursday, a video shared by Krishna Byre Gowda, the MLA of Byatarayanapura, showed a group of migrant workers walking home from Bengaluru to Uttar Pradesh in the rain. The video, followed by news that the state had cancelled trains for migrants, had triggered massive outrage. Adding to the outrage was a tweet by Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya, who defended the Karnataka governmentâ€™s decision to halt the trains.
State Govt cancels trains. Thousands of people,in groups of 10/20,are just WALKING TO UP.@CMofKarnataka this is inhuman.They are so disturbed as to walk home,pls donâ€™t force. Some may die.Govt can not be the paid agent of real estate lobby.Send them well so they want to come back pic.twitter.com/pxnxh7ALBHâ€” Krishna Byre Gowda (@krishnabgowda) May 6, 2020
Stoppage of inter-state trains by Sri @BSYBJP is a bold and necessary move.â€” Tejasvi Surya (@Tejasvi_Surya) May 6, 2020
It will help migrant labourers who came here with hopes of a better life to restart their dreams. Also, it will kickstart economic activities full throttle.
Karnataka will emerge out of this stronger!