Name: Bharat Yadav, Jagdish Paswan, Sanjeev Paswan, and Radhika Devi
Hometown: Shergahti, Bihar
Returned From: Gurgaon, Haryana
Sanjeev, Bharat, Radhika, and Jagdish have spent the last six years working at the rail-lines. The four spent three months waiting in Gurgaon without ration, basic sanity, and the landlord threatening to evict if rent was not covered immediately. Survival was getting harder day after day, Leaving was the only choice.
Interviewer: How did the announcement of lockdown affect you? What was your lifestyle in the following days?
Sanjeev: Bharat, Jagdish, Radhika and I were in Gurgaon for the past six years. There were others from the village working there, they were able to set us up in Haryana, and later we provided the same assistance to others. I never got the opportunity to complete my education. My father did not go to school either. I helped him with the farming for which he gave me Rs. 500. My move to Gurgaon allowed to me earn Rs. 10,000 and benefits every month. I’d save Rs. 3,000 and spend Rs. 4,000; Rs. 2,000 was the rent. I do not own land, but I own a house.
Bharat: I studied till 5th grade and my father did not study at all. He drove a rickshaw in Kolkata before he was diagnosed with a mental illness. My brother and I were obligated to help him. Nowadays he does labour work around the village. My family owns one ‘Katha’ of land. I earned Rs. 10,000 in Haryana in addition to my brother. The two of us are responsible for our parents, my wife, and my two-year-old son.
Jagdish: All of us did not live at the same place in Gurgaon but in the same neighbourhood. I live with my wife and two children; the parents live separately. I did not study beyond 3rd grade since the problems at home worsened. My father’s earnings from the farm would only be enough for the food, despite him completing his high school education. I inherited five ‘Katha’ of land. Both my children go to school; it costs Rs. 300 a month for one.
Sanjeev: Before the lockdown, the locals spread warnings saying, “danger is coming.” The first lockdown was expected, it was further extensions that triggered frustration and shortage of food and wages. We were not able to leave our homes, there was no ration; the police were able to give food, but it was extremely inconsistent, and the landlord was threatening to evict us. At that point, we needed to be at home.
It was after three months of contemplation we agreed to leave. There was no mode of transport to bring us home safely. The train-tickets were costing Rs. 4,000 and renting a vehicle is further expensive. Thus, we began cycling back at eleven in the morning. It took us three hours to reach the Kapashera border. That first night we rested at a camp where the authorities provided food, water, and shelter. On reaching a camp in Agra, the policemen offered us to hold the cycles as they would provide us with a train-ticket home. I was not too keen on that. When I did request assistance, I was ignored. Why would I agree now? Throughout our journey, not many were hostile. Some allowed us to rest at the medical-centres or the gas station, a few provided food too. We never imposed anyone; we shared the same fear.
Bharat: We halted outside Agra for tea. A truck driver agreed to provide a ride to Radhika, her daughter, and her father till Kanpur. The driver abandoned the three in the middle of nowhere. They waited a day till we arrived. Sanjeev and I were able to convince another driver to complete the remainder of the distance for a small amount.
Radhika: The driver shared his resources throughout the journey. He provided us with wheat, vegetables, and other material which I was able to cook into proper meals.
Sanjeev: The police delayed our journey for two days in Agra but provided a bus ride till Banaras. We advanced to Zamania on our bicycles. The policemen there were able to demand the truck driver to drop us till Dehri without charging. We cycled for a few kilometres when another commercial bus offered a ride for Rs. 150 each.
The six-day journey ended when the truck dropped us near Sherghati. We covered over 700k.m. in six days riding an average of 150k.m. a day. We’d start at 4 a.m. and pause at 10 p.m. for rest. In case the temperature was unbearable, we’d stop.
Bharat: Only a few drivers were willing to offer a ride. The majority were afraid of facing consequences from the policemen. As we rested in Ghazipur, we were given food, water, and Rs. 200 for the five of us.
All of us parked our cycles and head to the quarantine centre for fourteen-days. There were 70 individuals at the facility. The mattresses were thin; one sheet for covering, clothing items, and other products to maintain hygiene were given.
Bharat: They gave two meals a day.
Sanjeev: The meals were provided at inconsistent timings and it was tasteless. There was news about the labourers receiving ration and money, however, we received neither.
Bharat: I was not feeling well at one point, the center’s staff was contacted; a doctor immediately responded.
Sanjeev: All in all, it was not too bad.
Interviewer: Has your lifestyle altered due to the lockdown? What are the difficulties you’re experiencing?
Sanjeev: I would want to go back since there are no earnings here. Though, I am not sure if I can afford to reach there or spend on rent. My condition here is worsening too. The mud-house is unstable due to the rainwater flowing inside. We have to wait for the mattress to dry before going to sleep. The staff at the ration store refuses to supply us anymore despite having a ration card. I was not able to pay for the medicines my mother needed after her surgery. Two of my three sisters are still in school, I would like for my five-year-old daughter to study as much as she can.
She too shared our struggle of cycling in the heat without proper food or water. Bharat’s daughter covered the same journey with her grandfather attending to her throughout.
There is no hope of us returning in the near future. Unless the operations are reopened to normal capacity, there is no reason for me to be there. I will continue earning through labour work.
Radhika: I worked along with Sanjeev earning Rs. 10,000 a month. Our employer paid for the school and food of our daughter. I would want my child to have a proper education, but due to our situation, I want us to remain indoors. I cannot survive the same struggle again.
Bharat: There is no work here right now. The state is constructing canals all over the village which pays Rs. 150 a day. They have paused the work temporarily.
Sanjeev: We have no help. It costs a minimum of Rs. 10,000 for essential expenses and there are often unforeseen expenses that cannot be adhered to at the moment. I requested the officials from the village to assist with the procedure of procuring a ration card as they demand a higher price, I cannot afford that. I did not wish to pay a bribe since the staff did not seem trustworthy.
I have no expectations from the government. What have we received to build such expectations? There is no other option. My only need from the government is to produce a house we can live in or fund us to repair our mud house.