Scores of migrant workers in Haryana's Nuh are either returning home out of fear or fleeing to neighbouring Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in search of work in the wake of communal violence in the district which has claimed six lives.
Forced to stay indoors for the last few days in view of the prevailing situation and the curfew, the workers and their families, including children, said they have been surviving on crumbs.
Sartaj, a migrant worker who moved to Nuh about a month ago due to floods in his home town in Uttar Pradesh's Auraiya, said he too wants to go back home but does not have money either to return or provide food for his family.
"I had a food cart that got washed away in the floods in Auraiya. I moved to Nuh and set up a cart here and things were returning to normal when the violence occurred. Now, I am back to square one," Sartaj told PTI.
"I wish to go back home, but I don't have the money to travel," he said with tears in his eyes.
A father of four, Sartaj said his family has been starving since Tuesday as the entire town was shut after the clashes.
"My wife and I can still manage but it pains me to see my children starving. The rich and the middle class will relocate and restart their life but what about poor labourers like us? Where are we supposed to go?" Sartaj, a father of four, said.
Six people, including two home guards and a cleric, have died in the clashes that erupted in Nuh over an attempt to stop a Vishva Hindu Parishad procession and spread to Gurugram over the past few days.
Even as curfew was relaxed on Thursday with people being allowed to buy essential items from 10 am to 1 pm, Nuh wore a deserted look with locks on the gates of several houses and commercial establishments.
Saima, a labourer residing in Nuh for the last 30 years, has been living alone in her house after her husband fled with their children to Rajasthan on Tuesday.
"This whole incident has instilled a sense of fear amongst us. We have seen clashes in this town but never witnessed this kind of violence since 1992 (Babri Masjid demolition)," Saima told PTI.
"My husband left with our five children two days ago and although my hometown is in Palwal, which is next to Nuh, I don't have a penny to travel there," she added.
Another Nuh resident, Srikishan (65), who runs a furniture shop 200 metres away from where the VHP procession started, said he was shaken by the violence and lucky to be alive.
"I am grateful to God to be alive. Financial losses can be dealt with and maybe we will have to adjust our food habits for a few months. What is more important for me is that my family members are safe," he said.
Recalling the day when clashes broke out, Srikishan said gave shelter to around 20 people who were being pelted with stones by a mob.
"When clashes broke out, all I could see was a thick blanket of smoke and people running to save their lives. I let at least 20 people inside my shop to save their lives and I didn't bother whether they were Hindus or Muslims. We have seen clashes here but never on this scale after 1992," the 65-year-old resident told PTI.
Most people who live in Nuh have urged the authorities to ensure their safety and heighten the security in the area permanently.
"There is a curfew, police personnel everywhere, two hours have been granted to us to open shops, migrant workers are moving back to their home towns - the situation reminds me of the 2020 Covid lockdown. It will definitely take a month or two for the situation to return to normal," Ram Singh, who runs a grocery store, told PTI.