At 6 pm on 25 March, Naru Lal Bargot, and eight other daily-wage labourers were walking through a forest like area near Palghar in Maharashtra from Borivali, a suburb of Mumbai. They had started at 8 am that morning and were now 90 kilometres ahead. Bargot, like many other casual workers and migrant labourers had set out from Mumbai after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared an unanticipated 21-day nationwide lockdown on the night of 24 March to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in India. This triggered a wave of panic, leaving scores of workers to fend for themselves without any administrative assistance from the central government machinery.
In the wake of the lockdown, thousands of workers across India, like Bargot, are left with no option but to walk from their urban dwellings to their villages and home towns because bus and train services have screeched to a halt. Bargot’s journey seems particularly arduous as he has to make it all the way to Lohagarh village in Pratapgarh district of Rajasthan, a whole 700 kilometres from Borivali. Bargot who has been working in Mumbai for the past 15 years said that he works under a local contractor who pays him for marble and tile-fitting work. He added that he did not find any food by the roadside to eat throughout the day and that all he could do is drink water and walk. Bargot and his group were stopped once at Mumbai’s Mira Road by the police and told to go back. When they told the police that they have nothing to eat or drink, the police ignored them and told them to return to Borivali. Desperate, the entourage backed away and then made their way ahead through routes where the police were not stationed. Later, when they came across more police personnel, the group started splitting up and the men started walking one behind the other, waiting at intervals, instead of moving ahead as a group.
“At night, we will keep walking. Who knows, if we find a place to stop, we will stop,” Bargot said, when I asked him how long he planned to keep going.