Driest Land, Deepest Sea

Outlook|June 08, 2020

Driest Land, Deepest Sea
Migrant workers who returned to Hamirpur’s Jhalokhar village oscillate between hope and disillusionment. There’s little work at home, and the cities have let them down badly.

If its fields were to be painted on a realist canvas, Bundelkhand would require bold swathes of yellow and brown—the colours of shrivelled vegetation. The region, which comprises of parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, has suffered from drought for several years. Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh lies in this region. Scragy cows with visible ribcages forage around a parched landscape; on the road leading to Jhalokhar village, two wild horses are locked in an unrelenting battle. In the village, a dog scurries about with a stiff chapati in its mouth.

Santosh Kumar, 33, his wife, and daughter returned from Ahmedabad to Jhalokhar in the second week of May. They arrived by train—the tickets cost Rs 610 each for adults—and have quarantined themselves at their home ever since. Santosh used to work at a cloth dying unit while his wife Parvati worked part-time at a cloth-weaving unit. Together, they made around Rs 16,000-18,000 a month and managed to save about Rs 10,000. These savings would help them survive those unpaid, lockdown weeks in the city.

In Ahmedabad, Santosh and Parvati saw and heard reports of migrant labourers walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes, some being killed in accidents, some dying of exhaustion, and dreaded being forced into a situation where they might have to leave on foot for home a thousand kilometres away. “All we wanted was to be in the village amongst our own. If one dies in the city, there isn’t even one person who’s going to ask after us,” says Parvati.

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June 08, 2020