Mumbai

: It has been 24 hours since Iqbal Shaikh’s last meal. But all he thinks about is raising money to rent a bicycle so he can begin the journey back home to Lodhia in West Bengal, more than 2,000 km away.

While a host of economic activities will resume after April 20, Shaikh is afraid given the rising Covid-19 numbers in Mumbai, it will take much longer for work to restart here.

Reports of migrants being stopped at the borders have not deterred him. “If they catch me at the border and take me to the police station, at least they will give me something to eat,” says the 34-yearold.

A seasonal migrant, who spends at least four months of the year working as a farm hand in his village, Shaikh’s link to the city is a chappalmaking unit in Govandi’s Bainganwadi slum. Here, he used to earn around Rs 20 per slipper, which meant Rs200-Rs300 a day.

Nearly 150 daily wagers like him now live inside a row of factories and do not want to go to a government-run relief camp. “The camps are so crowded, we might catch the disease there,” says Wahid Munna, 31, who works with him.

More than anything else, they want to return to the security of their families. And the chance of work as agricultural labourers in their village where the rabi harvest will soon begin. “I want to be with my family. They are worried. Even if work restarts here, who knows when they will have another lockdown,” says Munna.

Without ration cards, the workers are dependent on local NGOs for sustenance. But given the sheer numbers, receiving food daily is not possible. “Every time someone comes to distribute food here, hundreds line up and we barely get anything,” says Iqbal Shaikh.

Those distributing food packets say they receive desperate calls daily from slum dwellers and migrants. “Besides the lack of food packets, people are running out of oil and kerosene for stoves, which will make it difficult for them to prepare meals,” says Bilal Khan from the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan.

Migrants in the city are desperate to return to the security of home

#TOI

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