Coronavirus outbreak: We are planning to leave, so what if we have to walk, say migrant workers

Updated: Apr 14, 2020, 07:39 IST | Faizan Khan, Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Many of the migrant mill workers in Bhiwandi who say they are finding it difficult to get even one meal a day, are prepared to go to their distant hometowns as they claim the government hasn't helped them

Mohammed Iftekhar, 50, plans to walk to his hometown in Azamgarh with his family. Pics/Aamir Azmi
Mohammed Iftekhar, 50, plans to walk to his hometown in Azamgarh with his family. Pics/Aamir Azmi

The extension of the lockdown in Maharashtra to April 30 has meant that around 6 lakh migrant workers of handlooms in Bhiwandi face starvation. They claimed that since the lockdown was announced, they have received no help from the government. They had thought they would walk back to their hometowns after April 14 when the initial 21-day lockdown was to be lifted. But now they fear they will not survive till April 30 as they hardly get a meal a day.

The migrant workers in Bhiwandi used to earn '400-R500 per day. Some of them got a monthly stipend of around '10,000. Since the lockdown, both work and their earnings have stopped.

'Will walk to Azamgarh'
Mohammed Iftekhar, 50, a worker who stays with six members of his family and has stayed in Bhiwandi for past 10 years told mid-day, "I used to earn around '700 every day. Suddenly things have changed, now we have nothing at home to eat. Neither the government nor our employer has come to our rescue. We are planning to leave, so what if we have to walk to Azamgarh."

Many of the workers have been staying in a single room and say it will not be possible to maintain social distancing
Many of the workers have been staying in a single room and say it will not be possible to maintain social distancing

"Me and my family back in Prayagraj are also suffering and starving, as I have no money to send them this month. I have been working in Bhiwandi for the past 15 years but have never faced a situation like this. Even during the demonetisation at least we got food and work and could go back home. But now only God knows what we are going through here. Only neighbours and locals are helping us so at least we can eat once or twice a day," said 34-year-old Mohammed Aslam from Prayagraj.

Another resident, Shaheen Bano, 40, from Khalilabad, Uttar Pradesh, said her children are sick and she does not have money to get medicines as her husband, who used to earn upto '600 every day at a construction site, is jobless. "In the past 10 years we have never seen a situation like this. We just pray to God that things will get better soon or else we will die starving," she said.

'What social distancing?'
Mohammed Saddam, 26, from Madhubani said, "We are 10 people living in a single room here. How are we going to maintain social distancing?"

Former MLA Abdul Rashid said that so far the migrants haven't received any relief from the government. "It is the NGOs and loom owners who are feeding some people. They could do so for another 15 days. How will the workers and their families survive then?" he said.

'Can't feed them for long'
Some of the loom owners who have been helping their workers with food, now say they won't be able to do this for another 15 days. "We along with locals and some NGOs have been feeding most of the migrant workers. Several community kitchens also work in the locality. But we don't know for how long we will be able to do this," said Yusuf Hasan, owner of a powerloom.

"We could feed them for another 10 to 12 days but if the situation remains the same we won't be able to," said another textile mill owner and secretary of the Bhiwandi Powerloom Mills Association, Shafique Momin.

'Government must help'
Rais Shaikh, MLA, said the government has not fulfilled its promises regarding all the migrant workers in Bhiwandi. "If the government doesn't help them, I don't know how they are going to carry on further. I am doing my best to help them. So far I have distributed 6,500 food packets and also provided assistance to 30 NGOs here. The government feeds 500 migrant workers, but in Bhiwandi there are more than 5 lakh migrants," Shaikh said.

The only silver lining in the crisis is that so far only one positive case of COVID-19 has been reported. "A 62-year-old man, who had attended a Jamaat in Mumbra, has tested positive. He had been in the Jamaat for nearly 14 days and had returned to Bhiwandi on April 9. We collected swabs as he was symptomatic. The result came positive on April 11. He has been admitted to the Civil Hospital in Thane. A total of 111 people have been quarantined in Bhiwandi," said Dr Jaywant Dhule, medical officer, Bhiwandi.

Despite repeated attempts to reach Thane Collector Rajesh Narvekar, he remained unavailable for comment.

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