Scores of migrant workers, alone or with their families, are walking hundreds of kilometers everyday from one state to another with a ray of hope that soon they will reach their respective homes after a nationwide lockdown was announced by the government till May 3 to contain the further spread of novel coronavirus in the country.
While some have succeeded in reaching their respective destinations, unfortunately, there are few who have lost their lives mid-way in their desperate attempt to reach home.
Jadav Gogoi, a migrant worker from Assam, was lucky enough as he reached his home after completing a journey of around 2,900 km, partly on foot, sometimes on a truck, battling day and night with hunger and thieves to reach his hometown in Nagaon district.
“All I wanted was to reach home,” said Gogoi with blisters on his feet, on a video call from Nagaon’s BP Civil Hospital, where he is currently quarantined by local authorities as a precautionary measures.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gogoi said that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown on March 24, he was “chucked out from the company” in Gujarat where he worked for six months. “There was no food, nor money, markets were closed. If I had stayed, I would have starved and died,” he said.
This is when Gogoi and other migrants who belonged to other states, mustered some courage and decided to make the long journey to home.
On being asked by The Indian Express about Gogoi's claim of completing around 3,000 km journey to reach home, Abhijit Gurav, Nagaon SP, said that the authorities will ascertain the exact route and where he came from once they will speak to him properly. “Yes, he is in Nagaon, but we are trying to ascertain the facts. Officially we cannot comment on where he came from and how...He probably took a lift. It is unlikely he walked 3,000 km," said Gurav.
Meanwhile, Nagaon DC Jadav Saikia said that some officers have been sent to verify the facts.
“I walked, there was a truck but they did not carry me the whole way,” Gogoi said.
Rakesh Kumar Yadav, a migrant worker from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and one of his co-travellers, confirmed that the group had left a place called Chandola near Ahmedabad in Gujarat together on March 25, the day one of first phase of 21-day long nationwide lockdown.
Yadav, who worked in ‘medicine delivery’ during his time in Gujarat, said that Gogoi had no phone and was not fluent in speaking Hindi. He said that the group took a bus on March 25, then a truck and when finally reached Varanasi, Gogoi said to us ‘chale jaaonga’ and he left. "That is when I last saw him,” The Indian Express quoted Yadav as saying.
Before leaving the group, Gogoi had used Yadav’s phone to call home to inform them about his whereabouts. “It was an unknown number and I was shocked to hear his voice,” said Rajen Phukan, Gogoi’s brother-in-law, who lives in Gadharia, the same village as Gogoi. “He told me that he had reached Uttar Pradesh and he was going to catch a bus to Bihar, and then walk home to Nagaon — to his wife and two children.”
Recalling the situation, Phukan said that they were extremely worried and had no idea about whom to call for help. Phukan further said that he told him it was a lockdown and that it was very dangerous to move around but he insisted.
Days passed and tensions gripped the family as there was no news of Gogoi’s whereabouts till on April 13, Gogoi called up again to inform that he had entered Barpeta district in Assam and is nearly 300 km away from home. He asked Phukan over phone, “Is it Bihu? “I can see people dressed and celebrating.”
Gogoi narrated to his family that how he slept in bus-stops and ate only when he was lucky enough to get food by people on roadsides.
Jayshree, Phukan’s wife said that Gogoi survived mostly on biscuits and tea. During the big storm after Bihu, he put a stool on his head and somehow saved himself. He also said he was robbed of whatever money he had on the way…he told us he had set out with Rs 4,000,” she said.
Phukan recalled that on April 19, he got a final call from Gogoi, saying that he has reached reached Ahotguri in Raha area. After this, Phukan niece and a few boys from the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) informed the police and rushed out in a car to find him.
The group searched for Gogoi in the dark and later saw a man sleeping in a jironi ghor (rest house) on the highway. “We called out to him — ‘khura (uncle), is that you?’” recalled Dibyajit Hazarika of AJYCP. “He woke up and said ‘how did you find me? I have walked for long and I cannot go any further.”
The Nagaon police immediately rushed him to the hospital where Gogoi was put in quarantine. “We are testing him for Covid-19 and we expect the results soon,” said J Ahmed, Superintendent of the Nagaon Civil Hospital, who also said that Gogoi seems okay but he is tired and will be kept for the mandatory 14-day period as a precautionary measure.
“I am happy to be here,” Gogoi said with a smile.
But what all he had to face to reach home is something he would rather not talk recall anymore. “I was hungry, I was cold … I really do not have more to say,” said Gogoi, from the hospital. “But one thing is for sure: never in my life will I step out of Assam again.”