Hopping on to a Shramik train is no easy trip for migrants

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on May 15, 2020

Migrants board Shramik special train to Madhya Pradesh from Panvel Railway Station during the ongoing nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, in Navi Mumbai.   -  PTI

Process is tedious and often puzzling; the workers meanwhile put up brave face for the folks back home

“We are fine here. We have been taken good care of,” Dharmendra Bora (35) told his wife over a video call.

His eyes lit up and the mask on his face was unable to hide his smile, as his aged mother and a few other relatives joined the call alongside his wife.

Bora was among the 200-plus migrant workers from Assam, including women and children, who were waiting outside Guru Nanak College here, with their backpacks and luggages, for several hours. As rumours about a Shramik Special train to Assam spread, thousands of workers from the State stormed the MGR Chennai Central railway station on Thursday, only to be bundled in buses back to the college in Velachery.

“We don’t want our families to see what we are going through,” said Bora, who worked as a security guard for a leading IT company at the Chennai One IT park. The security agency that recruited him said his service was no longer required as IT companies have largely move to work-from-home.

No job, no home

“Our families are worried about us. We are telling them everything is fine but they know it’s not true because even they are watching news,” said Vikas Raj (23), and his friend Debojit Jhataur (28) concurred. The two were thrown out of their room in Velachery by their landlord on Thursday morning.

Raj and Jhataur were working as security guards at a famous shopping mall in the city under a security contract agency. Until recently their room rent of ₹13,000 was being paid by their security contractors. “Our landlord was torturing us to vacate the room saying that our room rent was due for the past four months,” Raj said.

The two were earning around ₹14,500 a month each, of which ₹10,000 was being sent to their respective families in Assam.

“We have not received our salary since March,” said Raj, adding, “Our families, who are dependent on us, are now sending us the ₹2,000 that the Assam government has given them.”

When they approached the mall authorities, the duo were informed that they had settled 70 per cent of the bills to their security agency last month and the remaining 30 per cent was also cleared 10 days ago. Obviously, none of it reached their hands.

“We also filed a police complaint 10 days ago. The police officials who spoke to our contractors told us that we will receive our salary in the next two days but nothing has changed,” Raj said.

Little to cheer

On his 39th birthday, Sahadev Sharma has no reasons left to celebrate. Sharma, who worked as a lathe machine operator at a tyre factory in Gummidipoondi, had quit his job in March due to poor eyesight.

A resident of Bihar, he had an appointment with eyecare hospital Sankara Nethralaya for a procedure on April 1. He had planned to return to his hometown on April 5. Little did he know that waiting for his treatment would leave him blinded about his future.

“I reached Guindy in a truck along with my roommates to board a train to my native but cops at the Guindy station told me there are no trains to Bihar today (Thursday) and sent me here (Guru Nanak College),” Sharma said.

According to Southern Railways’ post on its Twitter handle, a Shramik Special train to Bihar left Chennai at 5.30 pm on Thursday, taking 1,464 passengers registered and nominated by the Tamil Nadu government.

While his room-mates from Gorakhpur boarded the Chennai-Basti (UP) Shramik Special train yesterday, Sharma, who had also registered on the Tamil Nadu government portal, is clueless on when his turn to board a train would come.

Clueless on procedure

Sharma is not alone. Thousands of migrant workers temporarily staying at Guru Nanak College are clueless about their journey. While some display their registration details and acknowledgement documents, many others, particularly the older ones, seem to possess neither knowledge nor support for the registration process.

“This is the third time we have been sent back from Central Station and nobody tells us when our turn will come or whom we should approach,” Raj said.

Meanwhile, around 600 migrants, in five buses, were shifted from Guru Nanak College on Thursday evening to make space for those waiting outside the college. “We are moving around 600 migrants to Asan Memorial College. There are still around 1,500 workers from different States inside Guru Nanak college,” said a nodal official in charge of this zone.

“We are trying to send the Assamese migrants back in two-three days depending on the train availability,” the officer added.

Published on May 15, 2020

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