The migrant workers mostly don't have an education and are having to run around, relying on strangers for help.

Migrant workers amid the coronavirus pandemic in India
Coronavirus Lockdown Wednesday, June 03, 2020 - 10:00

Holding the application form, Virendra moves around anxiously, desperately looking around inside the reservation counter—  for someone to make eye contact or ask him what happened?

39-year-old Virendra, a native of Dhanapur in Bihar is illiterate, like the scores of other workers who are camping at the Secunderabad railway station. Virendra is part of a nine-member group from Bihar working at a rice mill in Siddipet district as hamalis (load workers). As there is no help desk at the railway station, the group splits in different directions, seeking help from people around to fill their form. They wait for them to finish one form and ask, “Could you fill my form too?”

As soon as the person volunteers, others promptly gather around pleading to help them too. This is a common scene at the reservation counter in Secunderabad railway station. 

Though there are railway police guarding the counter and ensuring that physical distancing is maintained, migrant workers hesitate to seek their help. 

“How can we ask them?” asks a person from the group, laughing and hinting that it was strange to seek the help of men in uniform. “Whom to ask for help? Inside the office there’s no one to help. There’s only staff to issue tickets,” Virendra says. “We have to seek help from people like you,” he says, referring to this reporter.

Avdesh, another migrant from Bihar, echoes the same sentiment. “Humko likna padna nahi aatha (We don’t know to read and write),” he laments. 

Telangana has allowed interstate travel and resumed rail services from June 1, as part of Unlock 1, the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The Aarogya Setu mobile application has been made mandatory for train travel. At the Secunderabad railway station, entry points are manned by both the police and railway staff; only those with tickets are allowed to go in. Inside the station, thermal screening is done— those recording more than 100 degrees on the temperature scale are being sent back, said a railway official. 

Bookings unavailable 

A dejected 20-year-old Santhi has been camping outside the station along with her husband and colleagues, not knowing what to do. Santhi was working at a construction site in Kompally, Hyderabad. On Tuesday, when she went to the reservation counter to book a train to West Bengal, she was told that all the trains were booked for another 20 days. 

Confirming this to TNM, the staff at the counter said that all trains leaving to West Bengal have been booked until June 21. 

“I have to go urgently. I cant wait any longer,” Santhi says as she breaks down. Santhi’s daughter, under the care of her grandmother in Malda, is ill, she says. “We don’t have food nor any money. How can we stay here for another twenty days?” she asks.

Rail is the preferred choice of migrant workers to travel. Virendra says that though he has been anxiously waiting to leave for his home for many months, he couldn't find any cheap alternate transportation to leave for Bihar. “The truck drivers are asking Rs 2,000 - Rs 2,500 per head. We can't afford to pay so much. The train charge is much less,” he says.

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