Disclaimer: Not a pleasant, happy or positive read. Many people may feel really uneasy reading this.
It is not very difficult to understand what is going on in the country with the poorest of the poor but only when you actually go on ground and face them do you actually feel it.
When a little girl the same age as my daughter Reeham, walking barefoot for three days holding a potli on her head, hungry and covered in sweat and dust, with chapped lips, looks you in eye with no expressions and says, “Bahut bhookh laga hai, Uncle.” — it is a whiplash on your soul.
— One has to go and speak to a few people on the roads to learn why these people took this extreme desperate call to travel thousands of kms to their homes.
— Why would anyone in their right minds undertake such a treacherous journey?
— And put their own and their family’s life in grave danger during a pandemic?
— Not one, not hundreds, not thousands; why have millions of people across the country taken this foolish step?
We are not leaving our homes, we are protecting our children, making them wash hands every hour, strictly maintaining social distancing, sanitizing door handles, packets, even vegetables — and here are these people in the dirtiest of conditions, some have masks, others just a dirty cloth, some don’t have any protection, and forget distancing, they are packed together like sardines in trucks, buses and trains. They don’t have access to toilets for days together. Here, people are worried about their kids’ education and wondering if online education is good for them and these millions don’t know when they shall be getting any food or water.
You know, it actually doesn’t take much to empathize but there is one problem — one has to keep their politics aside. Once you do that, only then shame, guilt, anger and desperation seeps in and you can see the reality of the catastrophic mismanagement ruining millions of lives.
The migrant worker movement across the country is a tragedy of mammoth proportions. People are leaving because it has become unbearable for them and the government isn’t able to handle it. I was donating a little bit of money in bits and pieces till date, but was not really sure where the money was being used.
So, I thought, let me go and see for myself. This is yesterday’s story.
It was 2.30 p.m. when I picked up my colleague, Maj Paul Devassy, and we drove via Golf Course Road to Cyber Hub, towards Jaipur on the Delhi-Gurgaon Highway, NH48. On the way, we saw many families and individuals walking. Some had backpacks, some buckets, cloth bags and some had suitcases. It was around 40 degrees and the sun was beating down hard. We parked the car along the highway and waited to speak with the first approaching family. They had three little kids (5 years to 10 years, two girls and a boy). The mother, father and the elder daughter were carrying cloth bags with their entire life-possessions on their heads. They looked famished.
I wanted to ask them a lot, like what do they do, where they were coming from, why were they leaving, where were they going, etc. etc
But looking at their faces, I had no heart… I was also sweating in the heat by now. So I asked them,” Bhai, ghar kaise jaoge…paidal… ya koi bus, train?” The man simply looked at me and my parked car, gave a dry smile, and said, “Dekhte hain sahab, kuch truck tempo milega toh chaley jayenge.”
I took out a few chocolate bars I had in my pocket and offered them to the two younger kids. They looked at me and then looked at their mother… They accepted only when the mother nodded in approval.
I took out three 500 rupee notes and gave it to the father and said,” Bhai, yeh thode se paise rakh lo.” He broke down. He tried hard to stop his tears and said,”Sahab, aap bhagwan ho!” And he bent down and touched my feet.
I was stunned. I held his shoulders and pushed him away gently. I cannot even mention how ashamed, guilty and saddened I felt at that moment. Maj PD took out his glasses, turned away and did not face me till we reached the car. No prizes to guess what he was hiding. We didn’t speak for some time.
I had thought giving money is easy. But I learnt a huge lesson that it is a horrible feeling — to witness a person’s dignity being snatched away… when they have to touch someone’s feet in front of their children for a few bucks. We were heartbroken. I was compelled to give them more money but I wanted to cover as many as I could, so I held on because right then, that would have been enough for them to feed themselves and their children. And of course, there is the need to protect them from the corrupt and heartless police force (most of them), who are beating them indiscriminately.
So, I moved on… There was a 407 Truck packing in these labourers who were negotiating the rates. They were to be taken like potato sacks and dropped on the highway near their villages. As I reached, they looked at me suspiciously. A family was distraught and sprawled under the pillar, the wife was haggard and sat hopelessly with her back against the pillar. I reached the group.
We were confused as to how should we approach them. I told Maj PD that I would just go and start handing the notes. I couldn’t speak so took out the money and started handing each one a 500 rupee note. The gratitude on their faces and the tears in many eyes didn’t need anything to be spoken. People noticed and started coming to me and then there were people inside the 407 as well, so I went to the rear of the truck and distributed some more.
By then, I had exhausted everything I had. Looking at the people, I went back to the car and got whatever was left in my wallet (a few 100 rupee notes). I went back and the labourers had stretched their hands out from the sides and were pleading for 100 rupees. I looked up and saw the desperate faces and quickly looked away and held my hand up and I requested them to share. The notes were snatched out of my hand and I didn’t know who took them.
Some thanked loudly, and there were weak whispers of “Thank you, babuji…”, “Aap devta log ho, sahab…”
We started walking away as I wouldn’t have been able to hold back my tears of shame. These people were not beggars, they were solid men who do backbreaking hard work for paltry sums of money and they don’t complain like you and me. They deserved more dignity than this.
As we left the location and started for home, I discovered I had 5 x 500 rupee notes in one of the pockets. We were on the Golf Course Extension Road when we saw around 07-08 people walking with children and their potlis on their heads. We stopped, got out of the car, and gave a note each to the three ladies who were struggling with the little children. The men ran back, looked at me and pleaded for some help. I gave them the last two notes and we quietly drove off. I dropped Maj PD and then drove back home.
So, no big deal… These are just some stupid daily wagers who earn daily and eat daily. They don’t have salaries. They haven’t got a penny in savings. They have to spend 4-5 hours standing in line for a morsel of food. Their landlords have thrown them out. They have borrowed from friends and neighbours, and have set out to go to their villages because they are unable to get a square meal a day. They have no idea when they will get work next and where they will get their next meal from.
Anyway, the crux of the matter is that millions of these people are in a hopeless situation and they are unable to feed their little children two square meals a day or buy medicine for themselves and their ageing parents. This is the reality of the day. All those peddling bullsh*t about who’s doing what and how things could have been worse and everything done was necessary, blah blah blah can go take a hike.
383 deaths have been “reported” (sadly there might be many, many more) of the migrant workers on the roads simply because a lockdown of 1.35 bn people was implemented without proper planning or impact analysis.
Now what is 383 in a country of 1.35 billon, right?
Humanity is way too exaggerated. And human greed, dishonesty, hypocrisy and insensitivity grossly understated.
Note :Received via WhatsApp forward . Publishing in good faith and public interest.
These are writer’s own views.