Bihar migrants
Migrants wait to get medically screened before boarding a train for their native places in Bihar, during ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Amritsar, Sunday, May 24, 2020. Image Credit: PTI

Patna: With their jobs gone due to the lockdown and government measures to tackle the aftermath being far from satisfactory, hapless migrant workers from Bihar are selling off their belongings to buy food and just ensure that they stay alive! Over the past week, many such incidents have been reported from across Bihar and also from outside the state about desperate labourers selling off their belongings to ensure survival.

A poor migrant labourer from Betia town in West Chamaparan district of Bihar sold his mobile phone — his last possession that had helped him stay connected with his family during the long and arduous journey from Delhi — to buy food. 
Vipin Kumar had only Rs2,000 (Dh98) in his pocket when he left for his home last week from Delhi, where he used to work in a factory manufacturing cattle feed. Out of that Rs2,000, Rs1,500 was paid for hitching a ride on a truck and the remaining money was used to some food during the journey.

By the time Vipin reached Bihar, he had run out of money. With nothing in his pocket and death due to hunger imminent, he sold off his mobile phone for Rs500 — which he had bought only recently for Rs5,000 — and purchased a watermelon.

“I had not eaten properly for four days. No one gave us food when I reached Bihar. So I sold my mobile phone at the state border and bought a watermelon for Rs20. I am fine now,” Vipin said.

Vipin is not alone. The story of Sarvesh Kumar, a resident of Araria district of Bihar, is even more distressing. In March this year, Sarvesh had taken his wife to Rajasthan where he worked as a migrant labourer. From his previous savings, he bought a ‘mangalsutra’ (auspicious necktie) for his wife, but soon after reaching Rajasthan, the couple was caught in the nationwide lockdown and Sarvesh lost his job. As the lockdown was extended, the couple went into dire straits. Soon, their survival was at stake. Out of desperation, Sarvesh’s wife handed over her necklace to her husband for it to be sold in the market so that they could buy some food. “I didn’t agree, but my wife kept on insisting. She asked what would she do with that piece of ornament when we were staring at near-certain death from hunger? She said we could always buy another one if we stayed alive,” Sarvesh said. He finally sold off the necktie and used part of the money to buy a bicycle to reach home.

Land mortgaged

No less disturbing is the story of Amarjeet Paswan, another migrant worker from Bihar who had worked in Delhi for years. He would eke out his livelihood by selling vegetables on the streets of the national capital, but the lockdown left him without business. With the extended lockdown, he was on the brink of starvation. He called up his wife to mortgage his land and deposit the money into his account.

“The first thing I did after getting the cash was to fill my stomach. Then I used part of the money to buy a cycle to reach my hometown,” said Paswan who belongs to the Begusarai district in Bihar.

Another such distressful incident was reported from Gurugram, a city just southwest of New Delhi where a youth from Bihar sold off his mobile phone to buy ration for his family, before hanging himself from the roof. The 35-year-old youth, Chhabu Mandal, a migrant labourer from Bihar, used to work as a painter in the town, but was left jobless for two months since the lockdown started.

Cell phone sold

Shocked to see his wife and four little children going hungry or surviving on a pittance, he eventually sold off his cell phone on April 16 to buy a small table fan and some ration. The entire family went into raptures after seeing the ration packets in his hand. Even as the family was celebrating the arrival of food, Mandal went into his room, locked it from inside and hanged himself from the ceiling fan.

“He had been very troubled ever since the lockdown started. We had been struggling to get food. There was no work and no money. We were completely dependent on free meals for our survival, but these also did not come every day,” his wife Poonam told the local media.

Lockdown has left millions of migrant workers jobless across India. Hapless workers are now leaving the cities for their home states in hordes, walking barefoot, riding trucks, buses, cycles or crammed inside cement mixers on trucks. Although the federal government is running labour special trains, their numbers are far less than the requirement.