Lockdown extension brings thousands of migrants to Bandra to demand food, freedom to go home

Updated: 15 April, 2020 09:30 IST | Arita Sarkar, Pradeep Dhivar | Mumbai

Hundreds of migrant workers, shut down in their cramped tenements for 20 days, throng Bandra railway station seeking to leave city; dispersed by the police

Police had to lathi-charge a crowd that had spiralled out of control at Bandra West railway station. More than 2,000 hungry and fed-up migrant labourers had gathered at the station on Tuesday demanding that they be allowed to go home. Pics/Ashish Rane
Police had to lathi-charge a crowd that had spiralled out of control at Bandra West railway station. More than 2,000 hungry and fed-up migrant labourers had gathered at the station on Tuesday demanding that they be allowed to go home. Pics/Ashish Rane

When the janata curfew was announced, Abdul Halim, 22, a migrant worker from West Bengal's Malda district had no idea that a lockdown would continue till May 3; that he would be stuck with his 12 housemates in their small room in a Naupada slum. On Tuesday, around 2,000 migrants like Halim, beset by hunger and desperation, gathered outside Bandra railway station to protest.

This eventually resulted in lathi-charge by police, who drove them away until all that was left were their slippers. The workers gathered at the BEST bus depot near the station around 3:30 pm. Some wanted to return to their native places, others demanded food and shelter.

More than 2,000 migrant labourers had gathered outside Bandra Railway station on the west on Tuesday demanding to be allowed to return to their hometowns. PICs/RANE
More than 2,000 migrant labourers had gathered outside Bandra Railway station on the west on Tuesday demanding to be allowed to return to their hometowns. Pics/Ashish Rane

The police arranged grocery packets through an NGO. Some queued up, but others were unhappy. As some people started to shove, over 50 policemen charged at them with lathis. People ran in every direction, climbed over the nearest wall they could find. "We arranged for 1,500 food packets. But some people had different demands. Our concern was to maintain distancing. We used minimum force to disperse the crowd," said Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhishek Trimukhe.

'Lockdown sudden'
Halim has been working as a construction labourer in Borivli and Malad for four years. He hasn't been paid two months' wages. He has a ration card, but he can only use it in West Bengal. "All we want is to go home. I'd rather be hungry with my family than be here. "Local residents don't let us take grocery packets. They say we don't belong here. Twelve of us live in one room. When we were working, it didn't matter. But it is not possible to sit inside such a small room. If we step out, the police beat us up," he said.

Strewn footwear of the dispersed crowd at the station at Bandra West on Tuesday
Strewn footwear of the dispersed crowd at the station at Bandra West on Tuesday

The protesters comprised migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Many were angry that the government didn't give time to prepare for the lockdown. Mohammed Dildar, 26, who works on a daily wage in hotels hails from Katihar, Bihar is desperate to go home. "When the PM announced the janata curfew, they should have given us a warning about a possible lockdown. We had no idea that we wouldn't be able to go to our families," he said.

Sufiyan Momin, 45, lives with 14 people in a room in Behrampada. They have made peace with the lockdown but are struggling to get food. "I have no money to even buy food. The BMC helpline number promises to deliver food. I have been calling on the number for a week. They say they are distributing food packets. Where are they?" he said.

The police had to stay put in the Bandra station area to ensure there was no more crowding on Tuesday
The police had to stay put in the Bandra station area to ensure there was no more crowding on Tuesday

What surprised the police and BMC officials was that no one seemed to be leading the protest. "Everyone came on their own. Our assumption is that after the lockdown was extended, people felt more frustrated, which prompted them to gather for the protest," said Trimukhe.

Congress leader Baba Siddique said people had complained about rent. "Social distancing isn't happening in slums as there is no space. Some people can't pay rent. They would rather walk back to their native places. We will speak to landlords," he said.

Additional Commissioner of Police (West region) Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma said, "Returning home is not possible. We are arranging shelters in Uttar Bharti Sangh where people can stay until the lockdown period." Dr Sharma said police tried to tell people about shelters, but they were not willing to listen.

An official from the suburban collectorate said enough food is being distributed. Vinayak Vispute, assistant municipal commissioner of H West ward said, "We have been distributing 8,500 food packets and the collectorate is giving grocery packets. NGOs and local leaders are also distributing food and there are helplines that can deliver food in half an hour."

'Who organised this crowd?'
Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar asked how such a large number of workers gathered at the same spot and suggested an attempt at grabbing power in the state. "Who organised this crowd? How can thousands of people gather at the same place and at the same time? Long-distance trains start from CSMT and Dadar. Why did these people gather outside Bandra station? We are hearing that there are attempts made to come in power in some state. Is this one of those attempts?," Pednekar said in a statement.

Inputs by Prajakta Kasale

3.30PM
Time when the migrants began gathering at the BEST depot outside Bandra railway station

1,500
No. of food packets the Addl CP sourced from an NGO

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First Published: 15 April, 2020 07:05 IST

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