SECOND EXODUS BEGINS
Raju Shinde and Alka Dhupkar
In the dead of night, Rajendra Ghasmare, his wife and their two children set off on foot with one resolve: get to the safety of their village, Revdanda in Raigad district, by any means.
Hours after the state government on Saturday extended the lockdown till April 30, many migrants were on the road—a sharp reminder of the exodus that began after announcement of the lockdown on April 25—in the hope of making it back to their hometowns and villages.
For those like Ghasmare, 36, who were hoping to return to a semblance of their old lives at the end of the 21-day lockdown, the extension left them with no choice. Ghasmare’s family lives in a 7X6 sqft room in Adarsh Nagar slum in Dadar. With his job as a delivery agent with an e-tailer coming to a halt during the Covid-19 crisis, he has no money to pay the monthly rent of Rs 4,000. He has an illegal LPG cylinder; so once he exhausts it, he will not be able to even arrange for a refill at such a time.
So, the Ghasmares took matters in their own hands. “We discussed a plan around 11.30 pm on Saturday. We talked to our children because it’s a long walk home,” said Ghasmare. Around 3.30 am on Sunday, the family filled a backpack with spare clothes, water and some food for the journey and left.
The plan seemed simple in their head—cross Alibaug in less than 15 hours, and then travel another 25 km to Revdanda. But the journey wasn’t as simple.
They encountered many police checkpoints on the way. “At one, the police gave us masks,” said Ghasmare. Around noon, the family reached the Vashi toll naka and found dozens of others waiting to cross over. With the police refusing entry, they had to turn back.
But by then, exhaustion, worsened by the heat, took over their bodies. “My 11-year-old son was so tired. We had to stop every 10 minutes to let him rest. At Chembur, we managed to board a BEST bus and go off at Dadar,” said Ghasmare.
By the time they reached home at 5 pm, both their spirit and their bodies collapsed. “We are back to the same predicament. I don’t know how we will survive,” said Ghasmare.
His cousin, Nighendra Rakshikar, 29, who lives in Mahim fishermen’s colony and had accompanied the family, said the four men with whom he shared his 7X7 sqft room left for their homes before the lockdown. He works as a food delivery agent but there has been little to no work. He said practising social distancing in the slum settlement is a luxury he can’t afford. “We have to share the common toilet. How do we stay away from each other? I had expected the lockdown to end on April14. I have no income now. How will I survive?”
The lack of money also prompted Pradip Bhatre and Ganesh Bhagel to venture out. Bhatre, a 32-year-old daily wage worker, took to the road from Goregaon around midnight with his wife and two daughters, aged 10 and 12, to get to Mangaon in Raigad district. They reached the Vashi toll naka around 11 am, where they were persuaded to find shelter at the CIDCO exhibition centre in Vashi, meant exclusively to accommodate migrants. “We didn’t want to stay in a shelter. So, we returned home.”
Bhagel, a 33-year-old Malad resident employed with a small imitation jewellery manufacturing unit, said he has had no work since the lockdown began, and therefore decided that returning to their village in Raigad was their next best option. “My wife, my 65-year-old mother, 12-year-old daughter and I started walking. We were stopped at the Vashi naka and asked to head for the shelter. We decided to turn back, instead.”
Police personnel at the Vashi checkpoint said there was an increase in the number of migrants, from Saturday midnight to late Sunday evening, seeking to cross over and get to Raigad or Ratnagiri. Some of them walked on railway tracks to dodge the police.
Sanjay Dhumal, senior inspector of Vashi police station, urged people to stay indoors to stop the virus from spreading further. Ravindra Daundkar, Vashi police inspector, said while the police personnel are empathetic to the migrants’ situation, they cannot violate orders. “There are strict directives on maintaining social distance. The government has offered to take care of the migrants. When they reach the naka, we give them two options: head back or go to the shelter.”
KK Ashraf, senior divisional security commissioner, Central Railway, said security has been enhanced on railway tracks. “Security personnel are deputed 24×7 on the tracks at Nagothane in Raigad (which most migrants headed to the district are expected to cross).”
The Konkan divisional commissionerate is on alert, too. Divisional Commissioner Shivaji Daund said screening has been stepped up. “Unless it’s for essential services, nobody is being allowed entry into districts. We are running helplines for those in need of help during this crisis.”
Many migrant families began the long walk home just hours after the state government extended the lockdown till April 30
All migrants reaching the Vashi toll naka are being asked to head on to the CIDCO exhibition centre, which has been turned into a shelter. Around 250 migrants have sought refuge at this shelter so far