Return of the Migrant
Return of the Migrant
Disclaimer: This story is inspired by real life incidents but collated as a fiction where the characters and their related incidents are works of imagination. Any similarity is unintentional and coincidental.
The ramshackle of a truck was heading at break neck speed on the tarmac of the empty highway. But as it was fully loaded with people it was running steadily without creaking at the edges. The truck was carrying a full load of Migrant labourers who were returning home to far off places to their native villages. Debu or Debaprasad was one among the many passengers. There had been a bout of epidemic at the big city and the industrial belt surrounding it. The cause of the disease could not be identified and the treatment was unknown being a new disease. These were the people who used to work as labourers in the factories and business enterprises and construction sites in the city.
As the epidemic spread businesses were downing shutters and landlords were locking their rented tenements. So without work and home these people had no option but to return to their villages far away in the hinterland. All trains and bus services had been suspended to stop the spread of this deadly virus. There was panic and uncertainty all around. The government also had no clue.
Debu and a group of labourers had boarded this truck which they had bargained and pleaded with the driver to deliver them at the border check post of the state, the furthest point where it could go. As there was no clear direction or guidelines from the administration these migrants were feeling helpless and wanted to be home in these uncertain times. Their political masters and government department was silent to their cause. So these people decided to act on their own. They knew that they would be safe once they reach far away to their villages despite them being without work and money. For there was no work in their villages and this was the reason that had caused them to move to the city for work and livelihood. Agriculture was overburdened with disguised unemployment and due to small holdings production was very low. So the number of mouths that could be fed was limited. Alternate employment opportunities were needed and this was the cause that drew these rural folk to the large metros.
When a man is in danger of his existence he then feels secure close by amongst family and friends. Food and other accessories are then luxuries whose need can be postponed. This call of uncertain times drew people in hordes back to their roots.
So Debu and his group were looking at uncertainty once the truck would drop them at the border. They knew that if nothing was available for transport then they would have to make the rest of the journey on foot despite the road being long and treacherous.
There was a buzz in the crowd with the news that the railways had arranged for a special 'shramik' or labour train. But the station from where it would depart was still further eighty kilometres away and there was no transport.
Walking being the only way out, the people started trudging down the road after alighting from the truck. There was no food and they were hungry. Some were very thirsty having no water. No way side eateries were open as everything was under locked down, a curfew like situation. Mostly starving and tired the weaker bodies fell by the road side. Because it was hot in these Indian summer months. No one looked after them except only their near ones if they were together. By natural instincts people first had to look after their own safety and security, then if strength willing would look upon others needs . In this way, the numbers began dwindling,till they reached the railway tracks.
Someone said that the station still lay ten kilo metres down the line and it would take another half a day to reach it if they walked along the tracks. Tired and thirsty some of them decided to rest a bit on the tracks and move on after resting. Debu was also among them but he like some others rested on the embankments by the side instead on the tracks. It was now dark after sun down. People resting on the tracks were cautioned by others but they reasoned that during locked down there was no train service. Only special train services were being run and that too on different routes other than this.
So they began resting and fell into deep sleep as it had become dark after sunset. So tired they were that they could not wake up when a train pulled up. There was loud honking by the driver but no one had the strength left to get up. It was a speeding goods train. Although during the locked down passenger services had been suspended by the railways but the goods train were running carrying essential commodities. The goods trains now getting traffic free lines were covering big distances in very less time. So this goods train on tremendous speed moved on and tragically mowed down many people lying on the tracks and further continued on its journey. After the train had moved there was large scale screaming and crying. People were writhing in pain. It was still dark and visibility was very low.
Only at day break did the surviving people realise the humongosity of the tragedy. Bodies, bags and slippers were strewn here and there. Blood was splattered on the tracks.
But no amount of tragedy could affect the surviving mass. As there was no help available and the bodies lay there on the tracks to rot. So the others got moving onwards nonchalantly and started to make the journey to the station. The train was waiting there at the station and one good thing was that they weren't required to pay for the tickets as their travel had been arranged. At least for once their existence had been considered. But more ordeal was lying ahead. No food and drinking water had been arranged as there was no Pantry. As the need to avoid the spread of contamination. It was one hell of a journey without food and water in this hot summer month. After one and a half days Debu got down hungry and thirsty at the station from where he had to walk further five kilometres to reach his village. Before getting down Debu had heard that due to the heat and dehydration some people had died on the way. Debu considered himself lucky to be alive and reach home safely. Finally home, sweet home. It felt good to see his wife and son and other members of the family.
The things were not too bright at their village either. The money flow was less. Debu had returned penniless not getting his salary since the lock down began. The farm produce was rotting at the barn as agri markets were closed due to the lock down.
But after a week of his return, there was news for Debu. The news he hoped would be good. He had received a call on his mobile phone. The job contractor was on the line asking Debu to return immediately. There was good news for him. His employer had sold his business venture to a new entrepreneur. This entrepreneur wanted the Old hands to be brought back on the job. Debu was told to make arrangements for his journey which would be completely funded by his employer. He was advised to bring his family as the employer was making arrangements for their stay. This certainly was great news but Debu could not trust the generosity of the new employer. But he had no choice either.
He returned with his family in tow this time. The train services had resumed now. As told he was reimbursed his train fare. A good family quarters were waiting to welcome him and his family. It was like a dream. The very next day Debu reported for work. It was an electrical goods manufacturing unit. The earlier owner had handed over a booming industrial unit to the new owner. The new owner was very kind and well behaved. He treated all his employees very well. The manufacturer had now diversified into making masks, sanitisers and other epidemic related medical goods. Also he had a long list of orders. So the business was now good and promising. There was the promise of good increments and festival bonus for the workers as the company was sighting good business development.
Later, Debu came to know that this new employer of his was a conscientious man. He believed in the theory of helping deprived fellow human beings. His elderly father who was the patriarch of the business was sensitive to the issue of reckless treatment meted out to the migrants in the recent past. To atone for this ill-treatment the father-son duo wanted to return these hapless migrants with kindness and benevolence. Also in the business world, there is mandatory compliance called compulsory social responsibility or CSR that the businesses have to do every year. So this act of helping in the cause of the migrants would go down in the records as a CSR compliance. Because a healthy and happy labour force will lift the economy out of the current morass and help make a 'V' shaped recovery to ensure the nation moves on the path of growth.
All the settings were perfect one can desire of. Debu constantly pinched himself to ensure this was true and not a dream. He failed to understand how could everything change for the better in a matter of a few weeks.
The environment also became better with the incidence of the epidemic abetting. Other Migrant workers were also returning. Now there was buzz of industrial activity everywhere. There was excellent news in the offing that a vaccine had been discovered to tackle the menace of the epidemic and the results were successful. There was optimism everywhere and the dark clouds of pessimism had receded into the background for now.
The world was becoming a better place to live and work. The value of the Migrant workers was being recognised. After all, there is an end to bad days. The comfort the city dweller seeks is the cumulative effect of the cause of the hard labour put in by these Migrant labourers. As a result the demand for the return of the Migrant labourer. Hurrah for the Migrant labourer and the daily wagers. Some day they would be much better off than now. Only little compassionate and empathy would do.