By Shuriah Niazi
NEW DELHI (AA) - Ranveer Singh, a 39-year-old migrant worker who had walked nearly 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Delhi in an effort to reach his home in Madhya Pradesh state’s Morena district amid a nationwide lockdown over the novel coronavirus, collapsed and died on the Delhi-Agra highway on March 28.
Ranveer, who worked as a home delivery boy for a private restaurant in Delhi, complained of chest pain, which was likely due to being exhausted from the long walk.
A local shop owner rushed him to a hospital, but he could not be saved.
Police said officers are present along the entire stretch of the highway with food packets and water for such people, but it was of no help to Ranveer.
Ranveer is survived by his wife, Mamta, and three children. Mamta was inconsolable.
"He was the main breadwinner for our family. We're shattered. We've lost everything,” she told Anadolu Agency.
“We belong to a family of farmers. Ranveer was working hard for all of us. The future for our children is dark.”
Every year, thousands of poor laborers from states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan turn to big cities like Mumbai and Delhi in search of work.
But due to the sudden lockdown, thousands of workers have been heading back home on foot.
Ranveer, who had left his native village, was one of them.
- Nationwide lockdown
On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown, giving people less than four hours’ notice before the order took effect. The decision left millions of migrant workers in a state of shock.
Although there is no data showing their exact numbers, according to some estimates, there are 45 million migrant workers in India.
A large number of laborers are engaged in construction work or working as street hawkers, roadside vendors, security guards and rickshaw pullers who earn daily and feed their families daily. But since the lockdown, millions of them have become jobless and are in dire straits.
The Delhi government has converted 11 schools into night shelters to help migrants in the city during the lockdown.
“This step has been taken amidst the large-scale exodus of migrant workers from many big cities including Delhi to their respective states,” said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
The exodus of workers started in Delhi and many other big cities across the country as they were left without food and money.
The workers in these places were caught unprepared as Modi had announced the shutdown without any warning.
Desperate workers decided to return to their native villages as it was impossible for them to survive for three weeks in the cities. They decided to return on foot as trains, buses or other means of transport were not available due to the lockdown. Many of them died on the long and hazardous journey.
Some died in accidents and others due to hunger or exhaustion. At least 34 people have lost their lives in the first week of the lockdown, according to media reports, including laborers and their family members.
The first death due to the lockdown occurred on March 25. Ten laborers working in Kerala were returning to their homes in neighboring Tamil Nadu state. They were passing through a forest in Theni, Tamil Nadu when it caught fire. A 43-year-old woman and her one-year-old granddaughter died on the spot. Two men also perished.
- Returning homes on foot
On March 27, eight people were killed in a road accident near the Pedda Golconda toll gate in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state. The workers and their family members were in a truck and on their way home from Telangana to Karnataka. But a speeding lorry hit the truck from behind, killing them.
Thousands of migrant laborers from Rajasthan working in Gujarat are returning to their homes on foot due to a lack of transportation.
Jagdish Prasad, a resident of Dungarpur district in Rajasthan who works in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, said it is impossible to survive for three weeks without earning any money.
“I work at a tea shop. Many of my friends from Rajasthan also work in shops and restaurants. Since everything is closed, our owners have told us to go back to our homes and return only when the situation is normal,” he said.
Similar reports are also coming from other states in the country. Reports say daily wage workers are walking hundreds of miles in a desperate bid to reach their home districts and are carrying all their belongings on their backs, often accompanied by their wives, small children and other family members.
The Indian government has now asked state governments to seal state and district borders to stop the exodus of migrant workers during the lockdown and said those violating the lockdown will be sent to a 14-day quarantine. The central government has asked the workers to stay put where they are and told states to provide food and shelter to stranded migrants across the country.
Meanwhile, the government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that some 500,000-600,000 migrant workers have reached their homes on foot during the lockdown.
Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla made a submission in the Supreme Court in response to a status report sought on the measures taken to prevent the exodus of migrant workers.
The country has reported nearly 1,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 45 deaths so far.