India migrants living in fields Bihar
Migrant workers returning to Bihar are self-quarantining under the trees and in the fields as villagers have kept them out of their homes for fear of the virus. Image Credit: Supplied

Patna: Returning migrant workers of Bihar are caught in a peculiar situation now. With state health officials advising them to be in home quarantine and local villagers denying them entry into the villages for fear of contracting the virus, hapless migrants are being compelled to self-quarantine themselves in open fields, in plastic tents or under trees for 14 days.

A migrant worker from Bihar’s Sheikhpura district has currently self-quarantined himself in a makeshift tent pitched on a field meant for wheat cultivation. Sonu Kumar had returned to his village from Haryana where he used to work in a factory. The first thing that he did soon after reaching home was to report to the district quarantine centre for getting himself admitted there, but the officials suggested him to be in home quarantine instead.

Makeshift tent

Apparently not satisfied with this response, he then rushed to the village quarantine centre, requesting for permission to let him enter the village. But there too he was not allowed entry. Ultimately, he arranged some bamboo sticks and plastic sheets from his village to erect a makeshift quarantine tent right in the middle of an agricultural field just outside the village. He has been staying there for the past three days. He said he would be returning home only after completing the 14-day mandatory isolation period.

“The villagers are opposing entry of returning migrants to the villages. So I have put up my tent outside the village. Fourteen days is too short a period, it will pass very soon since I can at least see my family now,” Sonu told the media.

Migrants Shramik Express Bengal Bihar Ranchi India
Migrants express their happiness before they board a bus as they arrive from Bengaluru via 'Shramik Special Train', in Ranchi on Wednesday. Image Credit: ANI

Ten other migrants who have returned to Bihar from Maharashtra, Delhi and Rajasthan have self-quarantined themselves under trees in the Vaishali district as villagers prevented their entry into the village, suspecting that they may be carrying the deadly coronavirus. Strangely, they had been told to go home by local health officials at the quarantine centre after thermal screening.

Family to the rescue

“After strong objections from the villagers, we requested the officials to allow us to stay at the district quarantine centre for the 14-day quarantine duration, but they refused. So we decided to stay in self-quarantine under trees on the outskirts of the village,” said Ravi Kumar, one of the migrants. He said beds and mosquito nets had been provided by their family members, who also serve them food daily.

Another migrant, Mahesh Sahni, rued the way they were being treated as “untouchables” upon their return from Delhi. “We bravely underwent the ordeal of walking on foot, but the kind of behaviour our colleagues [fellow villagers] have shown towards us has left us heart-broken,” said Sahni, who hails from the Gardiha-Paharpur village in Vaishali district of Bihar.

Even more terrible is the plight of seven other migrant labourers from the Madanpur block of Aurangabad district, who have been staying outside the village in a temporary shelter-home made of palm leaves! The migrants, who had returned from Chhattisgarh, were forced to stay in the makeshift home as the local quarantine centres denied them entry. “We were asked by the officials to live in self-quarantine and maintain social distancing, but the co-villagers didn’t allow us to enter. So we had to erect a temporary shelter-home,” said Vinod Singh Bhokta who worked in a rice mill in Chhattisgarh.
Suspension of transport services

Quite like them, a couple has been staying in a makeshift tent on a maize field after being denied entry to their native village. The couple, from the Danapur block of Patna district, used to stay with their three children in Delhi, but after the nationwide lockdown, they returned home, having faced much difficulty due to suspension of transport services. 
“We are trying to get the family to check into the district quarantine centre,” block development official Devendra Kumar said.

Another 15 migrant labourers have been staying in the abandoned government quarters of the state Irrigation Department in Gopalganj district. The labourers said they visited the local block office and hospital for three days, requesting a health check-up and seeking admission into the district quarantine centre. However, the officials showed little interest in them, they alleged. “We passed two nights on the roads, waiting for a response from the government, but we were ignored. So, we finally cleaned up the abandoned government quarters and have been staying in self-quarantine there for the past week,” said Pramod Goswami.

Estimation gone wrong

Reports said the entire problem has emerged due to the fact that the number of returning migrants has exceeded the state government’s estimation. According to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a total of 610,000 migrant labourers have arrived in Bihar on 427 labourer-special trains in the past fortnight, while another 918,400 workers are to due to return home in the next ten days on 574 special trains. Only 545,000 labourers could so far be accommodated in the 7,840 government-run quarantine centres, while according to the government’s own estimates, the total number of migrant labourers returning to Bihar is likely to cross 0.6 million.