Harrowing tales of migrant workers being harassed, abused, forced to work and not being allowed to return home are stark realities that have emerged since the lockdown. And now, the cancellation of the Sharmik Trains from Karnataka has only added to their troubles. In Bengaluruâ€™s Whitefield, a group of 11 migrant workers have been through traumatic experiences. From not being paid salaries since March to being kicked out of their homes by their employer, this group of migrant workers has slept on footpaths and has not eaten a single meal since the night of May 4.
Amit Mahali, a 32-year-old migrant worker from West Bengal, was employed as a kitchen helper at the Moriz restaurant in Bengaluruâ€™s Whitefield. Amit Mahali and his colleagues, who worked as kitchen staff and waiters at the restaurant, were living in a room provided to them by their employers, which is located close to the restaurant.
â€śSince March, we have not been given salaries. When we asked the manager there, he said that the business is low due to the lockdown and we would be compensated when business picks up. On May 2, we asked our owner to give us the money as we wanted to return home. He just refused and said he canâ€™t give,â€ť Amit said.
On the morning of May 4, Amit and the other employees of Moriz allegedly asked their employer to pay them their salaries once again and were turned away. On the night of April 4, Amit and another colleague, Rohit Routia, were the last ones to go to sleep. They were sleeping on a mat close to the door of the roomâ€™s entrance.
â€śThe owner and some of his men knocked on the door. I opened the door. Rohit was behind me. They just told us to vacate the space immediately. I told them that we would not unless we are paid the outstanding amount we are owed. The ownerâ€™s men beat us up and pushed us out. They threw all our belongings outside,â€ť Amit added.
It was past midnight when Amit and 10 of his roommates gathered their belongings from the road and began walking. With nowhere to go, they decided to sleep on the pavement for the night.
â€śWe didnâ€™t have enough money either. On Tuesday morning, we gathered whatever money we had and rented a room in Kadugodi. We donâ€™t have enough money to continue living here,â€ť he added.
Amit tried calling the Karnataka helpline for migrant workers hoping to get food. However, he says that he was unable to communicate with the operator as he could not understand Kannada. â€śI tried talking to them in Hindi. I canâ€™t speak it as well as Bengali so there was a problem. But I assumed they knew that we wanted food because I kept telling them. I also gave my address. We waited the whole of Tuesday hoping they would send food but nothing happened,â€ť he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Labour Department got in touch with Amit after intimation from the media. He is now hoping to get some food for him and his friends. â€śI wanted to file a police complaint but when I discussed it with everyone, it seemed like more trouble. We donâ€™t have much money to fight this. I hope our owner gives us the money we are owed,â€ť he says.