Name: Arjun Paswan
Hometown: Bhitiarwa, Bihar
Returned from: Uttar Pradesh
Arjun Paswan migrated across the country performing agricultural tasks. For a family of eleven, he’d send Rs. 10,000 back home and limit his expenses to Rs. 1,200. The lockdown initiated the first of many struggles; for two months – he was stranded without a meal and tolerated torture by the policemen. During a phone call with his wife, Arjun realised his wife’s worry along with his distress and left for Bihar on a bicycle.
Interviewer: Tell me about your experience with the virus and your journey from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar.
Arjun Paswan: I had been preparing wheat for fifteen days, and abruptly, the whole world is in lockdown. I panicked. The following twenty-days were spent inside one room; there was no work, the police harassed if I left the building, and there was no food supply either. My family cried on the phone because they were concerned about my survival without food or income. I cried too. I waited for two months for an official channel to bring me back home. However, there was no certainty from the authorities. I, along with others from the neighbourhood purchased second-hand bicycles for Rs. 800 each and began riding to Bihar. I would have died on my way home or at home; either is better than living without food and experiencing police brutality.
I do not have any specifics about my journey since I’m uneducated. We cycled the whole distance, took breaks in the middle on the side of the road, near a village, or wherever possible at the time, my legs and hands were in immense pain, and the bread we took with us was over. The next days of the journey, I consumed biscuits, water, and bananas; the only food available to us. There were instances when strangers would provide bananas, biscuits, and water.
I was crossing the border when the policemen at the Uttar Pradesh border attacked us; there were no obvious reasons. Some policemen at the check-posts would allow us to cross after a redundant inquiry, yet there were few who lathi charged us upon arrival to push us out of the vicinity. The second event occurred in U.P. too. Although we broke the rules of the lockdown, it is the Policemen’s work and responsibility to curb the movement. I accepted two thoughts prior to departure: If I die on the way – I die; if I reach home – I’m home.
Thirteen days later, I reached the quarantine centre in my village. There was a brief check-up followed by instructions to isolate at home for 12 – 13 days, not socialize, and avoid contact with everyone around.
Interviewer: How are the conditions at home post-lockdown?
Arjun Pasawan: There are eleven family members dependent on me. I’m responsible for six of my grandchildren as one of my four daughters, and a son-in-law passed away. My routine for years now has been; work all day, buy ample food, go back and dine with the family. I have no fixed income currently; we can survive in Rs. 200 or Rs. 100 or even Rs. 50. I am poor; we make do with what we get.
Since I walked out of the quarantine, I have been performing odd farming labour for others with land in the village. At times I earn Rs. 200 a day, but the work is highly irregular. I feel compelled to keep looking for potential job opportunities.
I have no information about the virus; I only heard the screams. It was through my phone and the quarantine centre where I learned about the virus after reaching Bihar. The virus is highly unpredictable; it might kill us, or it will leave. I have to continue putting food on the plate for my family; I cannot let eleven family members die of hunger.