Name: Rajesh Kumar
Occupation: Commercial Driver
Returned from: Indra Reddy Nagar District, Telangana
Rajesh Kumar returned to Indra Reddy Nagar District, Telangana on 17th March to resume his driving work. He was able to work for two-days as the lockdown was implemented on the third. The contractor agreed to pay the amount it takes for him to reach home, however, he delayed it one day at a time, and two months later; Rajesh was forced to borrow from his wife’s self-help group in the village. With the money, he and others from the village began their journey on foot.
Interviewer: What was your first reaction to the virus? How did you adapt to the new lifestyle?
Rajesh Kumar: I came back to Jharkhand on 10th March to visit the family. I returned to Telangana on the 17th and resumed my work there. Two-days later, the ‘Janta Curfew’ was announced followed by the lockdown. The contractor suggested the work would resume on the 29th March; on 29th March, he again asked us to continue waiting here as the work would resume on 15th April. According to him, police approval was required to drive without any unwanted trouble.
The virus continued to spread rapidly, and I was stranded with 7 others in a make-shift home. Neighbourhood shops refused to let us purchase items and imposed we isolate ourselves. The landlord provided with housing, but the second meal of the day was never assured. I slept early instead. The seven of us shared our struggle and need for money with the contractor; he agreed to pay our due to the next day. The next day, he proposed another date. This lasted two months. None of us were compensated for the days we were told to wait in-case work resumes.
My wife borrowed Rs. 6,000 from her self-help group and transferred it to my bank account. Others too were able to gather necessary funds and begin our walk home.
Interviewer: How was your journey back? What were the difficulties you experienced? Were you provided with any assistance?
Rajesh Kumar: The thirty-four of us left on the 8th of June for the 1,400k.m. journey at 6 p.m. covering 200k.m. in 12 hours. There were commercial vehicles we rented for parts of the walk. Prior to our departure, we contacted the Hazaribagh Police Station who noted our Aadhar card details, and eased the walk with bus rides. We paid Rs. 2,000 on entering and another Rs. 4,000 was demanded before leaving Maharashtra.
There was a restaurant in Chandrapur, Maharashtra that agreed to provide us food for Rs. 80 per person. It was just dal and rice. From Maharashtra, we reached Andhra Pradesh on the same bus. The border authorities checked our temperature, sprayed disinfectant on all of us along with the bus-seats, and allowed us to proceed with our journey. I was hungry for the twenty-four hours we spent at the border. I only had Rs. 6,000, I spent it all on the bus ride. I sold my small ‘Jio’ phone at the Andhra border for Rs. 600; I had to buy food.
The bus broke-down multiple times leading the thirty-four of us to push till it starts functioning again; shopkeepers did not let us purchase food or water, nor did anyone offer. One of the break-downs was flat-tire. While the driver arranged for a replacement wheel, we searched for food and water. Two kilometres down the road, a shopkeeper charged us Rs. 40 for a 1l bottle. The next two nights there was no food.
We contacted all necessary authorities in Jharkhand, provided all the details they requested, received assurance of a safe ride back home for the thirty-four of us, yet nothing was provided. Even during the two-months in Telangana, no ration or money was given.
40k.m. before Ranchi, the police diverted us, forcing us to take the 300k.m. route instead. I slept hungry another night. Later, we arrived at the quarantine centre, were checked, and asked to leave. Some were picked-up on bikes from the village, I walked 10k.m. home. No one told me to quarantine, I stayed in a small room for fourteen-days next to the house. My family provided the food.
Interviewer: How are you adjusting to the situation at home?
Rajesh Kumar: I have a mother, sister, a brother, my wife, a two-year-old girl, and a three-year-old boy. Our monthly expenses depend on the situation, although on average we can manage in Rs. 5,000. Recently, my wife had a medical expense of Rs. 50,000; I used the savings I had for my sister’s marriage. I will now have to reclaim the amount and plan a different wedding.
I own less than half an acre of land; I harvest rice there for consumption and sale. My younger brother often works as a driver and helps the family when needed. My income in Telangana would be Rs. 20,000 a month, I’d send Rs. 15,000 back home and keep Rs. 5,000 for personal expenses.
I had to reduce my expenses to one-third of what it used to be. Coronavirus is likely to spread more, the contamination by touch terrifies me. If I were to return, I’d be risking my life. I want to be paid my dues before I return. I am aware that I can be infected in the village itself, but if I were to die, I prefer to die at home. This disease has no cure. I know a damaged kidney can be replaced, but not this disease.
I have no expectations from the government. They assured numerous facilities to assure safety; it was all a lie. I am more secure here with my family, there is no stress.