Name: Saddam Hussain
Hometown: Saidanpur Uttar Pradesh
Returned from: Hyderabad, Telangana
Saddam Hussain heard about the virus first during his visit to the village for festivities. He returned to Hyderabad three days before the announcement of the lockdown. With his employer requesting him to wait for work to restart without compensating, Saddam exhausted his savings and was left with Rs. 500. He waited with his friend on the highway for three days, and the two were able to begin their journey back to Barabanki.
Interviewer: How did the lockdown affect your livelihood? Share the experience of your journey back home.
Saddam Hussain: Three days before departing for Hyderabad, I heard the virus could possibly spread all over the country. I confirmed the status of work with the contractor and headed back for work. Suddenly, it was all shut due to the lockdown. I continued to wait as instructed by my contractor, but eventually, he began to avoid my phone calls. I do not fully blame him; the circumstances were such. I had no one to rely on.
A few days before, my friends made the same journey. They were able to guide us to the highway where we could hitch a ride. I had lost my source of income and there was no food left-over. It was time I moved back.
The two of us walked to the highway and waited for two days on the footpath. It was on the third day that we were able to find a driver who agreed to drop us till Allahabad free of charge. During the drive, he prepared food for himself, and the six of us; he purchased food from a restaurant for himself and the six of us. At reaching Allahabad, we rented another vehicle till Lucknow, and we walked for the remaining part of the journey.
I was not scared. How do you expect a poor man to experience fear? I could have died sleeping on the highway, or the scarcity of food could have killed me, or possibly the virus could have killed me during the journey. I cannot afford to think about it; regardless, what difference will it make?
We warned the Pradhan Ji (Village Head) of our arrival. My family had prepared a car to drive me to and from the quarantine centre for a check-up. I was offered to quarantine at the school, but I chose not to. Since there was no provision of food at the centre, the Pradhan Ji suggested I home quarantine for twenty-one days. My family provided the food throughout my quarantine.
Interviewer: How has the pandemic altered your lifestyle? Do you have any demands or expectations from the government?
Saddam Hussain: The condition in the village is worsening. There is no work in Saidanpur. How am I to support my family? I have to go back, there is no other alternative for us. I have no faith in my co-workers. I worked with them for three years and they rejected my phone call when I needed assistance. There was only one staff member looking out for us, I could not impose too much.
I registered for ration and other schemes by the government to ease the struggle. However, I received nothing. I waited in the queue for a whole day multiple times, yet at the closing hour, I was told to try again the next day since all the items have been purchased. The official authorities instruct to avoid unknown methods of transportation for preventive measures; I would have died of hunger waiting for proper channels to restart. The lack of empathy for migrants startles me. My experience was contrary to what they show on the news channels. I paid Rs. 80 per kg. for potatoes that cost Rs. 20 per kg. At leaving the house, the policemen would ‘lathi charge’ us. Yet, we are not the primary concern.