Migrants in Mumbai regret leaving city during pandemic

The nationwide lockdown in the view of the coronavirus pandemic in March last week resulted in thousands of migrant workers losing jobs. As a result, most of them returned to their native lands.

According to media reports, nearly 12 lakh migrant workers had returned to their native states from Maharashtra in the first week of June.

As most of the industries have now opened up and the country is trying its best to tackle the repercussions of the lockdown, India Today spoke to migrants on the issue of returning home and finding a means of employment.

At the Bandra Kurla Complex metro construction site in Mumbai, Sunil Kumar looked dejected while at work. He stood at a corner looking at his phone. India Today TV approached him for his story. After some convincing he got ready to talk to us. His shoe was torn and so was his side pocket. His mobile screen too was shattered. While talking to us he would often look at the shattered screen. He seemed sad as he couldn’t chat with his family in Gopalganj in Bihar.

“I got married six months back and my wife is back home. I am working here so that I can earn and send some money back home. Sir, now that I look back I feel that I acted in haste. I should have listened to my friends and started back. But at that time the cases were rising so fast and I was so scared that I felt if I have to die then I should die at my native place. Hence, I went to my hometown,” Sunil Kumar Yadav, a 22-year-old migrant worker in Mumbai told India Today,” he said.

Sunil was among thousands who left Mumbai during the pandemic. But once home like many others he too realised that a job was a must for survival but finding one wasn’t easy. After trying hard for three months he gave up and decided to return to Mumbai.

“There are no jobs in Bihar. There are no factories for workers so after a while my family said that I should go back to Mumbai and that was when I realised what blunder I had committed,” Sunil added.

In between his parents got him married. This was double trouble. He could not muster courage to say no to marriage but the reality was that Sunil didn’t even have enough money to even return to Mumbai, leave aside the question of getting his newly wed wife along. With no options left and much embarrassed with his circumstances he had to plead in front of his relatives to get some money.

“Whatever little savings I had made over the months went in travel and the three months of staying. In total I lost seven thousand rupees. After that I had nothing. Then I borrowed some money from my relatives and came to Mumbai,” Sunil told India Today.

Luckily he found work at the Mumbai Metro construction site. And now he vows that irrespective of what the situation be with regards to the pandemic he won’t return to his hometown.

“I will go after three four months to meet them, but now I will not leave Mumbai fearing coronavirus. This disease is not leaving so early, so there is no point in leaving the place where you get some work and earn a living,” he said.

Sunil feels if only there were job opportunities in his hometown he would have stayed with his family but regrets that things have remained the same over the years. “They say all the time that things will change after elections but nothing changes there. That’s why we have to come here,” the migrant worker added.

As he gets a call to return to work we ask him if he misses his newly-wed wife. He smiled and said: “Sir, I am a poor worker. I will earn some money and then send it to her. I will talk to her on the phone.”

At another Mumbai Metro construction site, India Today TV met 27-year-old Hazrat from Guwahati. He too had left Mumbai fearing that he would contract the virus but once home he realised that a job was needed for survival and finding one was an uphill task.

“There are around twenty five of us from Guwahati but just a few of us left Mumbai fearing the virus. Our friends told us to wait but we didn’t listen and lost all our money,” Hazrat told India Today.

Just like Sunil Kumar Yadav from Bihar, Hazrat from Assam has the same regrets. “Sir, there is nothing for the workers in Assam and so we had to return. We are lucky that we got work here. Now I have to work hard for my family here.”

But merely working at the construction site doesn’t fetch enough, hence, Hazrat keeps looking for other works as well. “Once I was asked to work in a private building and I got 400 hundred rupees for a day. I was very happy so I keep looking for such work as well,” he added.

There are thousands of such migrants in Mumbai who have now returned to the city from their hometowns but have no savings left with them.

The daily struggle continues for these migrants and the fear of the pandemic looms large. And they all are aware of the dangers. Talking out of a worn out mask from his pocket another migrant worker said, “My family keeps asking me about my health whenever we talk. So I always keep a mask with me.”

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