Anil Kumar and Manjit Singh, both skilled workers from Bihar’s Bhojpur and Buxar districts respectively, began their new jobs at the same workplace on 17 March. They were working at a bottling plant which was located at the Karsua village in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district. Anil, aged 28, said that they were hired on a contract basis for around Rs 18,000 per month. They were sharing a room with another colleague, Prem Kumar. Anil aimed to spend as little as he could in Aligarh and send most of his remaining salary back home, where twelve of his family members depended on his income. But his plan did not materialise. “This lockdown ruined everything,” he said.
Since 25 March, India has been under a nationwide lockdown to contain COVID-19, which left several migrant workers in the lurch. Tens of thousands of migrants made their way back home, and at least twenty two of them died in this effort. Anil, Prem and Singh were among the workers who were compelled to return to their homes.
The roommates were working till the third day of the lockdown, they told me, and required more financial support from their workplace. They realised that they would not be able to make ends meet in Aligarh and embarked on an arduous journey back home on bicycles. Anil and Singh travelled around nine hundred kilometres to their homes in Bihar. Prem, a resident of Bhopalpur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Basti district, pedalled over six hundred kilometres to his native village. They reached their homes safely, only to find that they had few options left to earn a living. Still, the three of them were content with being home. “If we live at home, we will be able to survive with just salt and roti too,” Anil said.