Touching tales of India’s migrants during the harsh lockdown

It has been over two months since India first announced its lockdown from March 25. What started as groups of migrants walking from Mumbai and neighbouring districts to their hometowns in Gujarat and Rajasthan has grown into the largest mass exodus since the Partition.

These are the same people who toiled away building our roads, homes and malls, those who made our furniture, repaired our plumbing and made our snacks. They were invisible until now. However, this crisis has brought the plight of India’s migrants to the fore.

Over the past two months, the stories of these travelling migrants have been captured on camera - some heartbreaking, others touching. Many of them have walked alone, others with families and belongings, pregnant women, tiny children, the elderly - the journey has been an arduous one for them, many who have not been able to reach their destinations.

While the initial journeys were on foot, many have also since travelled by the special Shramik trains that were launched by the Government. Not all have reached their destinations, though. According to data compiled by road safety NGO, 198 migrants lost their lives in road accidents during this lockdown period, while many more have died of hunger, heatstroke and exhaustion.

We take a look at the stories behind some of the images and videos that went viral.

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This heartwrenching video of a 15-year-old migrant crying and saying that he had roamed the streets for three days not knowing how he could go home, depicts the tragedy that India’s migrants faced, especially during the early days of the lockdown. With construction sites and factories closed, public transport halted and the police forcing them off the roads, the workers had no money to stay back and no idea how they should reach home.  

Reflecting the tragic situations in which thousands like her found themselves in when the lockdown was announced, this migrant worker broke down after being stopped near the Delhi-UP border by the police. She said that her child was in Jhansi and requested that they are allowed to walk home if transport could not be arranged.

This weeping man has become a symbol of all that is wrong with India’s migrant crisis. The photograph of Rampukar Pandit talking on his mobile phone went viral, touching many across the country.

A Press Trust of India photographer Atul Yadav, spotted Pandit, originally from Basai village in Begusarai district, Bihar, sitting on the Nizamuddin Bridge across the Yamuna river. Pandit had started to walk home as his youngest son, who was unwell had died. However, the police stopped him from crossing the Bridge and he had been stuck for three days.

After the photographer urged the police to help him cross the border and reach his hometown, his photograph went viral. A few NGOs then gave him food and water and helped him reach home. His homecoming has been tragic, he could not even perform the last rites of his son, whom he had never met.

Another heartbreaking video that symbolises the pain of the crisis is that of this toddler pulling at a sheet covering his deceased mother’s body on a platform in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

While the family members of the mother, 35-year-old Avreena Khatoon, said that she had died of hunger and thirst on board the Ahmedabad-Katihar Shramik Special train, railway officials and the Muzaffarpur district administration claimed that she had died of an underlying ailment.

On a positive note, as per reports, actor Shah Rukh Khan, through his Meer Foundation, has stepped in to support the child who has now been placed under the care of his grandfather.

This shocking video shows the extent of hunger and desperation that the pandemic has brought with it. The video was captured by a Pradhuman Singh Naruka, who yelled out at the hungry migrant eating a dog’s carcass on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. He then approached him and gave him food and water. According to Naruka, the police have since contacted him asking about the details of the man.

This image is one of both sorrow and pure devotion. Yakoob Mohammad, a migrant, sat by his ailing friend  Amrit Ramcharan after both of them were dumped off the truck they were travelling on. As Mohammad sat cradling his dying friend’s head on his lap, he called out for help for his friend Ramcharan with whom he worked at a weaving centre in Surat.

Both of them had paid Rs 4,000 for space in a truck to reach their hometown in UP, however, were thrown off after Ramcharan fell ill. Ramcharan was taken to a hospital by some social workers and was put on a ventilator. Yakoob, however, could not save his friend’s life.

A small child slept on a suitcase which was being dragged by his mother in this image that went viral. The mother was walking from Punjab to Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, when the picture was taken.

What makes this image touching is that, along with his other belongings, this man also ensured that he took his two pets along during his long journey home. The viral image prompted netizens to comment that while many abandon their pets on the smallest pretexts, this man, who clearly has very little to offer, was devoted to his pets that he took them along as well.