Coronavirus outbreak: Beaten and still hungry migrants recall Bandra horror

Updated: 16 April, 2020 13:30 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Some of the migrants who assembled in Bandra railway station on Tuesday recount their horror and explain why they are desperate to reach their villages

Saquib Ansari, who was caught in the commotion, said he had suffered bruises on his arm, back and thighs
Saquib Ansari, who was caught in the commotion, said he had suffered bruises on his arm, back and thighs

A day after hundreds of migrant workers protested near Bandra West Railway Station, many residents of Behrampada claimed that despite promises made by the civic body, they didn’t receive any food packets on Wednesday. To add to their frustration of not being able to go back home to their families, many migrant workers who are mainly involved in construction activity, said their employers have not paid them wages for over two months.

They have run out of all the money they had.

Behrampada is filled with hundreds of male migrant workers who work in the city for 3-4 months and return home for a few weeks before coming back.

Sufiyan Ali, 45, works as a site supervisor during demolition work. "I earn R26,000 a month. But my employer hasn't paid me for three months and isn't answering my calls anymore. My savings are nearly over. I have no relatives here who can help me. People give assurances of providing food but nothing ever comes to us. I am not sure if I'll survive to collect my pending salary," he said. Ali hails from the Malda district.

More than 2,000 migrant workers had gathered at Bandra station on Tuesday seeking to go to their hometowns. Pic/Rane Ashish
More than 2,000 migrant workers had gathered at Bandra station on Tuesday seeking to go to their hometowns. Pic/Rane Ashish

Residents of Behrampada walked past the boards that marked the area as a containment zone on Tuesday. When asked how they came to know about the protest, residents said that they simply followed the crowd. On Wednesday, the police were seen using drones to monitor the crowd.

'Just followed people'
Nazir Shaikh, 30, a resident of Shastri Nagar behind the mosque near Bandra Railway Station said that he had seen people leaving their houses. "At around 1 pm, we saw people walking towards the Bandra station. People said that there would be information about how we can go back home. I went hoping that someone would tell us if we could take buses to go back home. But the police charged at us and we all ran back home. Many people are injured but they are afraid to step out," he said.

Another resident, Wazir Shaikh, 25, from Katihar district of Bihar said that while he understands the situation, he and other migrant workers need to go back home for their families. "We tried to tell the police that they could screen us and send at least those who are not ill. We gathered to figure out if there was any way we could go back home," he said.

On Tuesday, hundreds of migrant workers had gathered near Bandra station, and while some demanded food, others had asked to be allowed to go back to their hometowns. Things got out of hand and police lathi charged, which eventually dispersed the crowd. Many fell down and others ran over them.

Saqib Ansari, 49, a local malishwala from Gorakhpur, sustained bruises. "It is a valid concern and people came out only because they had no other way. Instead of calmly explaining the situation to the people who are already going through a difficult time, the police beat us up," he said. Ansari said that he had suffered bruises on his arm, back and thighs.

Luck was not on 36-year-old Mohsin Shaikh's side, for he returned to Mumbai just two days before the lockdown was announced. He is now away from his family and has no earnings. "My wife and two small boys survive on my salary. I usually send around R10,000 home. But now I have no work and no money to survive or support my family," he said. Shaikh also hails from Malda district and is a construction worker.

'Food is not enough'
Shweta Damle, an activist with Habitats and Livelihood Welfare Association who works in the area, said the distribution of food isn't enough. "In Behrampada, there are around 1.5 lakh residents. Food packets are coming but there is a requirement for more," she said.

Communication issues
Apart from addressing the issue of food supply, Ashish Shelar, local BJP MLA said that migrant workers across the city have prepaid connections and are running out of talktime on their mobiles. "All mobile recharge shops are closed and the workers don't have balance. They have no other way of keeping in touch with their families. I have written to the state government to look into the issue," he said.

'Have increased food distribution'
Vinayak Vispute, assistant municipal commissioner of H West ward said that after the gathering, they have increased the food distribution in the area. "Earlier we supplied around 3,000 food packets in the slum area behind Bandra Railway Station and now we have increased it by another 1,000 packets," he said.

View of the crowd from the skywalk where a man was seen resting. Picture/Pradip Dhivar

Ashok Khairnar, assistant municipal commissioner of H East said that they have increased the supply of food packets by 1,500 in Behrampada and a total of 18,500 packets are being distributed to all the slums in the ward. The collectorate is also supplying grocery packets in the area. While people with ration cards get food grains, majority of the migrant workers don't have a ration card.

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First Published: 16 April, 2020 07:20 IST

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