A toddler on his shoulder, daily wage labourer Bunty is one among a stream of migrants who have started to foot it to their villages in Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’ announcement of a 21-day lockdown across the country have left them with no other option, they say.
“What would we eat here? One cannot eat stones,” says his wife, walking alongside, a huge blue bag carrying all their possessions perched on her head. Another family trudges behind her, the man carrying his young son his shoulders, his wife clutching the hand of their little daughter.
“No one helps you out Delhi, the way they do in the village,” says Bunty. “We can even have rotis with salt or chutney. It will be peaceful. But here, we have nothing. No helps anyone in Delhi,” he adds bitterly.
Bunty’s village is 150kms from Delhi. It will take him 2 days to reach home with his three children. Neither do they have enough money nor food.
Despite the lockdown that has taken buses off the road and trains off the track, these desperate men and women have started on their way home, willing to risk sealed borders and vigilant policemen, who are tasked with ensuring that people not leave their homes except for most pressing need.
In his televised address to the nation yesterday, PM Modi had said “21 days’ lockdown may seem to be a long time, but this is the only way to ensure everyone is safe”. Staying at home, he had repeatedly said, is now a matter of survival.
But for Bunty and family, it is a choice between the devil and the deep sea.
A bailout package, covering beleaguered people and companies yet to come, the government has announced further subsidies in wheat and rice, that is expected to benefit 80 lakh citizens.
But it has not helped Bunty and his family on Day One of the lockdown, who are making the two-day journey to Aligarh.
The government has also repeatedly underscored the need to share with the less fortunate. During his interaction with his constituents in Varanasi, PM Modi suggested that those who had the capacity, “Take the pledge to take care of nine families for 21 days”.
Admitting that in villages, people help each other, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “The question arises in cities… citizens need to help those who are poor. States are also coming out with packages”.
The BJP has instructed each of its 1 crore workers to feed five people through the 21-day lockdown. At a meeting today party chief JP Nadda made the decision, which the party hopes, will help five crore people fed.