Posted by Rahul Shrivastava with Aditya Sen and Project Delhi
I do understand the importance of the words “reached home”. But my relationship with this expression definitely has changed in the last few weeks. And these three families played a pivotal role in it.
Frankly speaking, I have always had my apprehensions and reservations about getting involved in the migrant crisis. We, in Project Delhi were assisting PwDs (people with disabilities) and I was also kind of content coordinating and liaising with different groups and people needing help. During Lockdown 3.0, in one of the group’s con-call, we discussed the possibility of getting involved in the migrant issue and how we could help them. My view was – this is a fairly layered and complex area and our motley amateur group may not be skilled enough to handle it. In hindsight, I think who is?
Next morning, I got a message from my colleague Vineet from Project Delhi, informing me of two families in Noida (UP) stuck in lockdown. Lalji was working in an industrial unit in Noida. His family came to visit him. Lalji’s factory had closed and he had lost his job. His ailing wife, two kids, pending rent and food needs added to his crisis. His wife required immediate consultation with a doctor in his hometown, Gorakhpur. Lalji and his family were desperate to get back home.
Suresh along with his wife (having paralysis in one of her lower limbs) also hailed from Gorakhpur. They heard that some buses were leaving for Gorakhpur and decided to head homewards. Suresh vacated his rented place and went to the state border. After spending 10 hours with another 5000 people, he realised that passes were necessary to move inter-district. In absence of passes, they returned, but were not allowed in by their landlord. They had to take shelter at a friend’s place.
I immediately did what I had been doing with PwDs. I called both Lalji and Suresh and assured them of our support. I told, we would assist them reach their homes at the earliest. Then frantically asked my colleagues in Project Delhi, for people or groups who could help overcome the dual challenges of arranging passes and transport.
While Lalji and Suresh were waiting for their journey to start, my journey, from one NGO to another, from one person to another, began in full earnest. Finally, we landed with a group based out of Mumbai who were helping migrants get back home. In the meantime, we arranged some ration for both the stranded families. Chaos and miscommunication was ruling the entire migrant scenario. I got a call from a group that some arrangement was being made. This was followed by a WhatsApp message asking me to give a long explanation of the plight of these families for the government authority in Noida to be looped in. The person on the other side claimed he had clout and could make tables turn. Message was sent, but the tables did not turn.
Meanwhile, we took the necessary details and filled the online travel registration forms. But filling the form and getting the pass were two different things. They were waiting and situation was getting worse with each passing day. Thankfully, I came across a group in Delhi who agreed to bear the travel expense of these two families, but pass was still not available. We got in touch with somebody in DM’s Office, Noida, who told us a personal visit to the DM’s Office would help get a travel pass in a single go. I immediately informed Lalji and Suresh. But it was already 4:30 pm, and we decided to visit the office next day during working hours.
I was giving my update to another colleague Aditya later in the evening. He shared another urgent case in Ghaziabad – of Radha with two children and her daily wager husband. They were from Gonda in Jharkhand and had a small agricultural land there. Radha’s husband, as an annual practice, had gone alone to Gonda for tending his crops. But this year the lockdown had disrupted everything. Her husband had loaned Rs 3000/- and sent it to Radha for securing their travel back home. A truck operator promised to take the family to Gonda for Rs 2800/-. Radha vacated her place but the truck operator did not turn up. The money was also gone.
Without money, without pass, without home she somehow got in touch with a group in Delhi who were helping migrants. This group in turn informed us. We had a critical situation at hand. The borders were sealed. She was in North Delhi and it was already 10 pm. The group tried, but could not arrange accommodation for Radha for the night. We reached out to our friend who runs the Blind Women’s hostel in North Delhi. I requested him to provide shelter to Radha and her kids and after some persuasion, he agreed.
Meanwhile, Aditya got in touch with the local Delhi Police as the family needed to be brought to the hostel. The Police started tossing up the case from one PCR Van to another based on jurisdictions. I was continuously talking to Radha. She was extremely frightened standing alone with her children in a by-lane near a Gurudwara. It was 1 am. Finally, after a lot of location and PCR tracking, the Police reached her at 1:30 am. We were relieved that she would now be safe in the hostel. And the next morning we would plan further. But that was not to be.
Police simply refused to take her to the hostel despite our appeals. Both Aditya and me spoke to them repeatedly but to no avail. Police took her to some other shelter home in Delhi and she spent the night there.
Perturbed, Aditya and his friends spoke to higher authorities in Police and decided to seek help from social media. With a few twitter posts and involvement of members from Delhi Commission for Protection of Children Rights, the Police finally took the matter seriously.
At 5:30 am, I received a call from Radha. She told me she was well and at the railway station where Delhi Police had dropped her 15 minutes back. I enquired about her travel details but the call got disconnected. When I tried calling her back, her mobile was switched off.
I still had three cases: Lalji, Suresh and Radha with nothing much to offer. I continued giving assurances to the two men. Radha’s phone was still switched off. At 10 am, my phone rang and it was Suresh informing me that he had received a phone message with the travel pass. I immediately contacted Lalji. He too had got the message. They were packing their bags and would reach the station in the evening. But we remained worried, as Radha was still unreachable.
I remember trying Radha’s number more than 50 times. Finally at 6 pm, the call went through. My joy and relief knew no bounds when I heard her voice. She was in a train to Gonda. She told me that somebody from her family would come to receive her at the station. I informed Aditya. He told me the twitter thing had worked. The District Magistrate and senior Police officials had taken note of the case and arranged a travel pass / ticket for Radha on an urgent basis.
Next day, I spoke to each one of them. Now my voice was filled with calm rather than anxiety. Their voices were filled with happiness instead of hopelessness. Lalji and Suresh reached Gorakhpur on the same day. Radha took one more day to reach Gonda. When I last spoke to her, she was at home with her husband. Somehow I felt, I had “reached home”.
I remember penning these lines:
“ख़ाली करना दिन भर खुद को … फिर शाम को आकर भर जाना
कितना अच्छा होता है …लौट के अपने घर जाना.. लौट के अपने घर जाना “
[Drain yourself during the day and go home in the evening to rejuvenate
What blessing it is to return home …yes a blessing indeed!]
Cover image : By artist Balakrishnan available at webneel.com
Story images : Representational images from economictimes.com, indianexpress.com
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