Lakhs of people had hit the streets. The lack of money and jobs had forced them to set out on foot. On the borders of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh there was a traffic jam of fifty kilometres in which there were trucks carrying only labourers and their families. There were a large number of workers’ families who had still stayed behind patiently, their hopes on the Indian Railways. At last the Indian Railways came to life but the workers’ families were left disappointed. Something that the state could have done with a click of the fingers was made out to be a gigantic task. All sorts of formalities and paper work only served to torture the workers. All they wanted was to reach home, be with their families and not stay alone, to face this crisis created by the pandemic.
We spent weeks going to the offices of the municipal corporator as well as the police station. Once we even went to the Bandra and Kurla rail termini, but the surging crowds put paid to rest our hopes. We felt that we would never succeed like this. When we opened our purses the inspector melted and we got a call the very next day. Due to the short notice we could not make proper arrangements for food for journey. All that we were thinking of was let us go from here. If not to Pratapgarh, let us at least reach Jaunpur, then from there somehow or the other we would go home.
Our joy knew no bounds when we finally sat in the train, and we immediately informed our relatives about our arrival. At the outset some food packets were given to us but we were so happy that we did not even look at them. When at last we turned to them we found that the food was not edible. We thought that they were trying to get rid of some old stocks. Never mind, we thought. It was just a matter of 30 hours. We had started in the afternoon. We expected to reach home the next evening. One night would go in a flash. We had made some arrangements for food and water and we expected the government would also do something.
Our hopes were dashed to the ground and the journey of 30 hours took 90. Two days somehow elapsed but during the last twenty four hours the full family including the kids had to fast. Some arrangements for food were made on the boundary of Maharashtra and MP, but Uttar Pradesh made its own children and citizens to go to bed hungry.
What sort of plan had the Indian railways made? Who had jammed the wheels of the trains? Ii is not as though the train traffic was as much as it normally is and yet the train going from Gujarat to Siwan in Bihar took 9 days! And imagine our astonishment when we heard that the train going from Vasai (near Mumbai) to Gorakhpur suddenly landed up in Odisha in the morning. We also had a similar experience. The train was delayed and we reached after three days. No water in the lavatories, the train standing for hours together in jungles, not being served with food and water, the police preventing us from getting down on platforms, giving no information to the passengers about such a huge delay… each passing moment was like hours.
The bombastic claims of the Yogi and BJP governments were smashed to bits. We will always remember one incident. There was no potable water within the train compartments. When the train stopped near some village, the passengers got down for water. That poor farmer felt good to distribute water, but it was impossible to help everyone like that. That is when he started his submersible pump and ensured that every parched throat was given water. The state has all the means but was doing nothing for the people, while those with limited resources are opening wide their hearts, eager to help their working class brothers and sisters!
When we were awakened by the cries of a child we saw that hundreds of people had descended on the tracks. Some people were shouting and raising slogans. We had crossed Jaunpur station. Despite people pulling the chain, the train had not stopped, and now when it reached the next station, the passengers got down from both sides and were exhibiting their protest. They were saying take us back to Jaunpur. But the police came and rained lathis on the people. After three hours people were pushed back into the train and we were told that arrangements had been made from Akbarpur, the next station. Our anger knew no bounds. The travelling time kept increasing, there was no food and now our journey had increased by 80 kilometres. There was no limit to this maltreatment. We were all spent in reaching Jaunpur itself. Now we had to go to Akbarpur and from there 120 km to Pratapgarh.
Was this really the fault of the Indian railways or had there been a deliberate plan to torture us workers? We somehow reached Akbarpur and after the mandatory check-up we were given food and put in a bus to Pratapgarh. We had to stop again in Pratapgarh for a check-up. It was difficult even to stand. The journey had tired us out so much that new illnesses had cropped up. We were feeling so ill that instead of taking the ration announced by Yogiji we felt it was better to go home. When we left Mumbai we were ready for a Hindi safar, but these 90 hours had transformed it to an English “suffer”. After this terrible journey we collapsed on the charpoys at home. The only saving grace was that our whole family had tested negative. When our eyes opened in the evening I found this notice pasted to the walls of our homes, which I feel I must mention here’ “Do not enter the house, this house is under quarantine.”
Editor’s note: Seven people lost their live while travelling in such terrible conditions by Shramik Trains on a single day — May 27.
The above is an English translation of a letter received by the Editorial Board.