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Why 1,000 migrants gathered in Mumbai today

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
April 14, 2020 20:11 IST
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'They were only chanting one slogan, "Ghar jaana hai (we want to go home)".'

IMAGE: A large crowd of migrants gathered outside the Bandra station in north west Mumbai on Tuesday, April 14, afternoon wanting to go back to their villages. Photograph: Arun Patil

All of a sudden, at around 3.30 pm on Tuesday, April 14, a crowd of around 1,000 people assembled outside the Bandra railway station in north west Mumbai.

Who were these people, and why did they assemble, and that too after Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi had declared earlier in the day that the national lockdown would be extended till May 3, 2020?

Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Raja Rahebar Khan, a former Mumbai municipal corporator who was present at the spot.

 

All these were migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

They stay around this area of Bandra West, the old slaughter house compound, Maharashtra compound, Shastri Nagar. Some of them came from Bandra East too.

Due to the lockdown they are stuck. We are providing them with food, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation is providing, even the Mumbai police is providing them with food daily.

They assembled because they felt after Prime Minister Modi's address the lockdown would be lifted and they could go back to their villages. But that did not happen.

These migrant labourers are frustrated. Now they just want to reach their homes.

They do all kind of odd jobs -- some are cutters in factories, some work in showrooms nearby, some are tailors, masons. They do all kind of odd jobs.

Every day they earn between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. Now their earning has stopped for the last 15 days and they are only dependent on the food that is supplied to them by us or government authorities.

They were only chanting one slogan, 'Ghar jaana hai (we want to go home).'

Now they are saying they want to go back to their respective states by bus or if the government cannot provide them transport, they are willing to walk down so open the highways for them.

Some of them were complaining about the quality of food they were being provided as they felt it was dry and pale food. There is no gravy being provided.

They felt that only if they sit on a dharna will the government budge and agree to their demand by sending some buses or open some special trains.

We (local leaders and the police) told them that we can solve the food problem immediately, but as far as going out of the state or traveling is concerned, we didn't have the authority.

We promised them that we will take their concerns to the higher authorities about them going back to their respective villages. And we would need time for that.

We told them we cannot talk to all of them. So we told them they must form a committee who can interact with government officials for future negotiations as no one will speak to a crowd of this huge size.

Some outside elements -- I have no idea where they came from -- said they wanted a decision to be taken right then and there. We told them it was not possible as we did not have that kind of power.

At this very moment, food packets arrived for the crowd which we started distributing. All of a sudden, some people within the crowd started snatching these food packets from the hands of people who were trying to open and eat it.

The police then intervened and stopped these mischief-mongers from creating trouble.

Some of them tried to attack the people who were picking up the food packets. The police then had to intervene and there was a mild lathi-charge after which they dispersed.

Senior Mumbai police officers were on the spot to defuse the tension and it was over by 5.30 pm.

We were telling them to maintain social distancing, but they were adamant. It was only after the mild lathi-charge that all of them left.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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