Migrant workers gather in hundreds in Mumbai, say they want to go home

Topics Coronavirus | Lockdown

A large group of migrant labourers gathered in Bandra, demanding for permission to return to their native states | Photo: @ANI (Twitter)
Defying the lockdown, more than 1,000 migrant workers who earn daily wages gathered in Mumbai on Tuesday demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the coronavirus-enforced curbs till May 3.

The gathering in suburban Bandra, in violation of lockdown norms, created a potential law and order situation for an overstretched police force and the men in uniform resorted to mild force to scatter the crowd.

A police official said the migrants, who assembled around 3 pm, were dispersed two hours later and have been assured accommodation and food till the lockdown lasts.

In viral videos, police were seen resorting to mild cane-charge to disperse the migrants, who had gathered at the bus depot near the Bandra railway station in suburban Mumbai.

Most of these migrant workers were from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bihar, and they reside in nearby slums and other areas on rent.

Police authorities heaved a sigh of relief as no untoward incident occurred at the site, where more than 1,000 people were estimated to have been present.

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The daily wage earners were demanding arrangement of transport facilities so that they can go back to their native towns and villages.

The gathering in Mumbai came close on the heels of a violent protest last week by migrant workers in Surat, who, too, were demanding that they be sent back to their native places.

Daily wage workers have been rendered jobless ever since the lockdown was announced late last month to stem the spread of COVID-19, making their life a constant struggle.

Though authorities and NGOs have made arrangements for their food, most of them want to go back to their native places to escape the hardship brought by the sweeping curbs on movement of people. Train and bus services were suspended as part of the lockdown exercise.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the migrant workers who gathered outside Bandra railway station might have expected that the PM would order reopening of state borders.

They were told by the police that borders are not going to be opened and the situation was now under control, Deshmukh said.

The migrants were assured that the state government will make arrangement of food and accommodation for them, following which the crowds dispersed, the minister said.

The gathering triggered a blame-game between the Shiv Sena-led government and the opposition BJP.

Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Centre for the protest by the migrant workers and sought a road map to facilitate their journey back to their native places.

In a series of tweets, Thackeray said, "The current situation in Bandra, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the union government not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home migrant labour."

"They don't want food or shelter, they want to go back home," Thackeray said. He said feedback from all migrant labour camps is similar - that these workers want to go back to their native places.
"Many are refusing to eat or stay in these camps," he said. Currently, more than six lakh people are housed in various shelter camps across Maharashtra, he added.

Describing the Bandra gathering as an intelligence failure, former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya said the state government should explain how so many people gathered at a spot despite the lockdown.

BJP leader and former minister Ashish Shelar said the protest shows failure of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in enforcing lockdown.

Lockdown should be made successful because it is for the safety of people, who should be provided with foods and other essential commodities at their doorstep, Shelar said.

Additional CP Manoj Sharma said, "These all are local residents. A large number of people reside in this locality (Bandra), no legal action has been taken yet."

According to a police official, the daily wage earners assembled at the bus depot and squatted on the road leading to the suburban railway station.

Local Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddique said this situation arose when people came to know about the lockdown extension.

"This is not a government failure, because we are also monitoring the situation from the very beginning. I personally distributed essential commodities to more than 50,000 people. Under such a situation police should talk politely with the common man," Siddique said.

One of the labourers, who did not reveal his name, said, NGOs and local residents are providing food to migrant workers, but they want to go back to their native states as the lockdown has affected their source of livelihood.

"Now, we don't want food, we want to go back to our native place, we are not happy with the announcement (extending the lockdown)," he said.

Asadullah Sheikh, who hails from from Malda in West Bengal, said, "We have spent our savings during the first phase of the lockdown. We have nothing to eat now, we just want to go back at our native place, the government should made arrangements for us."

Another labourer, Abdul Kayyun, said, "I am in Mumbai for last many years but have never seen such a situation. The government should start trains to shift us from here to our native place."

Hundreds of migrant workers took to the streets of Mumbra town in Thane district on Tuesday, demanding that they be sent to their hometowns in light of the COVID-19 lockdown, which has rendered them jobless.

Workers, mostly from Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, who live in rented accommodations, claimed house-owners were demanding rent from them and they were unable to procure essentials.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray sought to reassure migrant workers that lockdown was not "lock-up", and appealed them to stay back.

Conducting a live webscast on the coronavirus situation in the state, Thackeray briefly also spoke in Hindi, and stated that his administration was looking after migrant workers.
Migrant workers stage protest in Surat, squat on road

Hundreds of migrant workers gathered in Surat on Tuesday evening, demanding that they are sent to their native places despite lockdown, police said.

The migrant workers gathered in Varachha area of Surat city and sat on a road demanding that they should be allowed to go to their native places, police said.

"These migrant workers want to go to their native places. We have asked them not to be impatient because a lockdown is in force at present. "Since some of them were complaining about the food, we have called an NGO and immediately brought food packets for them. The situation is now under control," a police officer at the spot told reporters.

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