A Lockdown and a Hard Place

In Photos: Migrant workers face police violence and hunger, escaping Delhi during lockdown

31 March 2020
Bablu Rajat, a differently-abled person from Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, walking along with his relatives, in Sarai Kalai Khan, Delhi. Rajat, who used to live in Karkardooma, said, “We have problem here for food. We will go to our village if it takes two months to reach our home, so be it. Government will help when we die with hunger. We don’t have money to buy food or to pay rent.”
SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
Bablu Rajat, a differently-abled person from Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, walking along with his relatives, in Sarai Kalai Khan, Delhi. Rajat, who used to live in Karkardooma, said, “We have problem here for food. We will go to our village if it takes two months to reach our home, so be it. Government will help when we die with hunger. We don’t have money to buy food or to pay rent.”
SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN

On 29 March, the Anand Vihar bus station in Delhi was overflowing with people—migrant workers in the thousands, all hoping to find a bus back to their homes in neighbouring states. Hunger, evictions and unemployment created by the lockdown were forcing them to flee the capital. Amid the tumult, the migrant workers told us stories of brutal police violence and attempt to feed their families in a virtually deserted city. “So what am I supposed to do?” Mehul Pandey, a 37-year-old labourer, asked. “No one is helping us. The cops have thrashed us around, and we are going to die of hunger. Koi ration bhi nahi hai, toh ham kya karein?”—There are no rations for us, what else can we do? “The government isn’t listening, I haven’t gotten any help from anyone,” she said. She told us she had been beaten with a lathi earlier when she was trying to run away from the police. “I’m also scared of the virus. But how am I going to feed myself?”

Many migrants were stranded on the road to Anand Vihar, some having walked from satellite-cities as far away as Gurgaon, Faridabad and Manesar. Many migrants we spoke to mentioned that they had not been paid for over two months, and many daily-wage labourers mentioned that they had not received wages for over a month, diminishing their already meagre savings. This meant that many were travelling hoping to find food somewhere along their journey. Many mentioned they had not eaten for more than two days. Along with hunger, they also had to contend with the brutality of the Delhi police, who migrants said were unreasonably violent to anyone out on the streets.

Migrant workers jump over the road divider at Anand Vihar, to catch a bus to the Lal Kaun terminal in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. They had travelled only six kilometres to Vaishali when the central government announced a ban on all movement of buses. The Delhi police forcefully removed them and asked to them to return to their homes.. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN Migrant workers jump over the road divider at Anand Vihar, to catch a bus to the Lal Kaun terminal in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. They had travelled only six kilometres to Vaishali when the central government announced a ban on all movement of buses. The Delhi police forcefully removed them and asked to them to return to their homes.. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
Migrant workers jump over the road divider at Anand Vihar, to catch a bus to the Lal Kaun terminal in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. They had travelled only six kilometres to Vaishali when the central government announced a ban on all movement of buses. The Delhi police forcefully removed them and asked to them to return to their homes.
SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN

“I’ve been walking around here since six in the morning, and have not been able to rest for more than 20 minutes,” Mohammad Aslam, a scrap-dealer from Manesar, said. Aslam was resting by a bench near an Indraprastha Compressed Natural Gas station in Vikas Marg, around five kilometers away from the Anand Vihar bus station. A security guard working at the gas station was harassing him, was asking him to go elsewhere. “I don’t know what to do. I am so scared and worried,” he said, mentioning that he had faced constant harassment by the police. “We keep getting chased from one corner to another. They stopped us near Nizamuddin railway station, and told us not to enter there, and then here, they’re not letting us go anywhere near Anand Vihar.”

A child sleeping on the shoulder of his father, a migrant labourer, awaiting a bus to Lal Kuan, Ghaziabad. Alongside is his wife, in a blue sari. Most migrants told us they had not had anything to eat for over than two days. Returning to their native villages seemed to them their only chance at survival.. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN A child sleeping on the shoulder of his father, a migrant labourer, awaiting a bus to Lal Kuan, Ghaziabad. Alongside is his wife, in a blue sari. Most migrants told us they had not had anything to eat for over than two days. Returning to their native villages seemed to them their only chance at survival.. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
A child sleeping on the shoulder of his father, a migrant labourer, awaiting a bus to Lal Kuan, Ghaziabad. Alongside is his wife, in a blue sari. Most migrants told us they had not had anything to eat for over than two days. Returning to their native villages seemed to them their only chance at survival.
SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN

Shahid Tantray is an assistant photo editor at The Caravan.

Ahan Penkar is a fact-checking fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: COVID-19 migrant workers Delhi Police police cruelty
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