On March 28, Ganesh had booked his train tickets to go home in Jharkhand from Kasaragod. For the last seven months, he has been working as an electrician in Thrikaripur. Today, he is living with 130 other migrant workers at a facility provided by Abdul Khader in Porapad, a coastal village in Thrikaripur.
Being a migrant labourer himself, 60-year-old Khader understood their trouble. He was a telephone operator at a university in Dubai. He worked in Dubai for 40 years before returning home in Kerala. This prompted him to provide space and food for 131 migrant workers who were unable to return to their home states and have no work due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. These labourers are from Jharkhand and Bihar.
He has arranged a spacious quarter consisting of 10 rooms, a big kitchen and equipped with fans and television. He also provides them with food every day.
However, Khader is not sure for how long he can protect them as it costs him more than Rs 8,000 per day to take care of them.
"Initially, there were five workers in this quarter. They worked for me in the vegetable garden and did some construction work. So I provided for them. Later, about 75 other migrant labourers also joined them as my tenants," said Khader, who has now waived off the rents of these labourers in the wake of the lockdown.
"When the lockdown was announced, many others also joined them as they did not have any work and place to stay. Most of them had booked tickets to go home between March 25 to March 31. Since the travel plan had to be cancelled, they are stranded now," Khader said.
According to Ganesh, most of the workers send money to their home every week and they don't keep in touch with them much. â€œI only had some money left for my trip back home. Now, it is all spent and nothing is left. We had no clue about the lockdown, else we would not have sent the money home this time. For now, Abdul Khader is providing us with food, but we do not know how long we can stay here," he told TNM.
Khader provides them with all groceries required to make their food. They are provided with rice, lentils and other pulses. In the initial days, they had fish and meat. But when the number of workers increased, he could not afford it. He has not taken rent or electricity charges from them.
Khader is ready to give them shelter until the lockdown is lifted. He does not need any rent, but he is worried how he will accommodate them if the lockdown extends, as he already spent about Rs 1 lakh and is not in a position to afford more.
"I am not so financially stable. I am also worried about them. I cannot leave them on the streets. The government should interfere by either rehabilitating them or providing them with food. I see them cry every day. They are worried about their own families, too. They don't have money," he said.