Name: Ram Kripa Kumar
Hometown: Bettiah, Bihar
Returned from: Gurgaon, Haryana
Ram Kirpa Kumar left Bettiah to search for work in 2015. His family’s state was unstable, forcing the twenty-one-year-old to not study beyond 10th grade, instead, he assisted his father to support the family. He visited his village for Holi and reached back on the 16th of March. Three working days later, the ‘Janta Curfew’ was announced. With his landlord demanding rent for the month, no source of income, having to purchase ration on credit, and his parent’s distress, Ram decided to walk back with other laborers from the neighbourhood.
Interviewer: How was your condition after the lockdown in Haryana? How was your journey back to Bihar?
Ram Kripa Kumar: I have been sewing in Gurgaon for five years now. It took me a month to learn the craft, ever-since I have contributed to the family expenses. I was pocketing Rs. 16,000, send home Rs. 8,000, use Rs. 5,000 for personal expenses and save Rs. 2,000.
I first heard about the virus in January at the organisation I was working at. In January, the General Manager and Manager instructed us to maintain distance, always wear a mask, sanitize repeatedly, and check our temperature before entering. I did not submit to the threat of the virus. I returned to the village for Holi without collecting my dues. I reached Gurgaon on the 16th of March — resuming my work almost immediately. Three days later, the manager announced the news of ‘Janta Curfew’. All of a sudden, everything was shut. I was not paid my dues or the income for the days I spent waiting; it was inevitable. The whole world is aware but chooses to ignore it.
My conditions there worsened. I supported my family; I could not ask them for more aid. The landlord demanded rent for March a few days into the lockdown. He threatened to cut the electricity and block our water supply in hopes of receiving his rent. I had no savings, I had no money; not at home either.
The staff at the ration store agreed to provide food on credit and pay in instalments when possible. Although they insisted I pay at once numerous times, they were quick at accepting my stance. A few weeks later, I called my supervisor who lent me Rs. 2,000 till our next pay check. It was all spent on repaying my debit at the ration shop. I grew uncomfortable in this foreign territory.
There were eight other labourers in a similar predicament heading towards Bihar. We worked together and then decided to walk back home together. The locals advised to get checked before departing from Haryana; I did. A few of us walked till Palwal, Haryana; we requested a parked commercial vehicle for a ride; he refused; there was no plan of leaving. We continued our walk till the next check-post, where we were questioned. I responded, “I had no money in my pocket, the salary was promised but never given, my landlord was threatening to evict, and sources of food were diminishing. How do you expect me to continue living there?” The policemen persuaded one of the truck drivers to drive us to Baliya, Uttar Pradesh for Rs. 2,600. From there, we walked to the bus station in Chhapra, Bihar. The bus drove us till Motihari for Rs. 150, and the remainder of the distance was covered on foot. The entire journey took four days. There were commercial vehicles on the highway offering us short distance rides for a certain amount (Rs. 60/70).
Throughout the journey, we purchased food from small shops (water and biscuits), and the locals gave fruits or water. No restaurant or other food facilities were open. It wasn’t as bad.
I quarantined at a school in Bettiah. There were 290 individuals in the building, but the appropriate hygiene was lacking. I was given two meals a day consisting of rice, dal, and vegetable, however, I got multiple servings.
Interviewer: How did the pandemic affect you and your family?
Ram Kripa Kumar: The condition of my family is fragile. I wish to be around my parents to avoid any uncalculated complications. I quit my studies after 10th grade for my brother’s education expenses, my sister’s education expenses, and since my father would only earn if there was work available, we lived earning an inadequate amount of Rs. 7,000 every month.
I haven’t been working since I got back. I am hoping to find a job here because I cannot be cheated again. If I were to go back, it’d be for a different organisation. Although not this year, or not until the virus is eradicated. Right now, my wife is pregnant. I need to be around. My parents support my reason to not leave the town since the situation could worsen if I were infected on the way out.
The authorities noted our personal and work information and guaranteed us jobs in the village. I’m not anticipating a response anytime soon. For others who earn ample, this might be a phase, but the lockdown has blocked all our sources of survival. I am the sole earner of the family of three, and my father isn’t contributing at the moment due to his fractured leg. The family expenses require Rs. 15,000; I own a house and a cow.