Last two months have been witness to some truly agonising stories of migrant workers – the stories depicting how they are going back from metro cities to their hometowns and villages in miserable conditions. Many of them belong to the garment industry.
Stories of mid-level professionals moving from factories to their hometowns are no different, as they too have had to go through a similar plight. The common thread among all these mid-level professionals is financial challenges, as the majority of them have neither got their April salaries nor are hopeful of receiving the same for May. Many of them even lost their jobs, and were forced to pay their room rents and manage other expenditures. Apparel Resources spoke to many such mid-level professionals and two of them agreed to share their stories on the request of not disclosing their names and companies.
Ranchi to a remote village of Uttar Pradesh (UP)
The journey of 800 kilometres from Ranchi to my village in Uttar Pradesh took me 4 days and 3 nights. Out of these 3 nights, two went without dinner, and despite keeping as much water as I could manage, I ended up going without water for several hours in this scorching summer heat.
After about 50 days of lockdown, my journey started on 9 May at 5.30 pm from Block Development Officer (BDO) office of Ranchi which is around 10 km away from the factory we work in. The factory arranged vans for us; a total of 24 people (including 10 women) boarded the vehicle. We were all from the same unit and all belong to Uttar Pradesh.
At 10 pm, the bus stopped at a place to seek protection from the state police force and CRPF, as it was a night journey and we were moving through a Naxal-affected area. During this stoppage, we managed to purchase some biscuits, as there were few shops available at that hour. There were around 16 buses together and all were going from Ranchi to Uttar Pradesh.
The buses stopped twice for few minutes during the night before reaching the UP-Jharkhand border at 5 am. By 2 pm, we didn’t have anything to eat or drink. It was only after we entered the UP border, near Sonbhadra district, that we finally got some water at a school. From there, after a journey of 30 minutes, we reached another school, where we got some biscuits to eat, and at around 4 pm, the buses separated district-wise. I was still 400 kilometres away from my hometown.
Finally at 9 pm, we got proper dinner. Next morning at around 8 am, we reached a school in Unnao district and got breakfast and lunch there. We were forced to wait at this place for the whole day including the night, as we were told we would be given ration, without which, we were not allowed to move further. The following morning at 9 am, few doctors started checking us, and after lunch, we got a certificate that we were fit. We also got the ration soon. At around 3 pm, I sat in a small bus with 10 other people, and finally reached my village at 5 pm.
To sum up the entire experience, I can say that it was quite an excruciating journey. Right from bearing the brunt of the sweltering summer heat to putting up with the food and water scarcity, we went through a lot to reach our final destinations. All this was physically tiring, but not mentally, at least for me, as buses were fare-free, and now that I have finally reached my hometown, I will not have to worry about the expenditure on room rent, food, etc.
Not only the professionals working in various apparel manufacturing hubs of India have faced such challenges, Indian expats working abroad have also had to go through a lot. Here is one such real story…
Dhaka to Delhi
Our office closed on 24 March, announcing general holidays. Next few days were spent waiting for a concrete announcement. There was a lot of confusion as to what would happen next. It was difficult to sit idle at our flats and away from our families in this difficult time. Though we were constantly in touch with the High Commission of India, there was no solution, as flights were not operational there.
Almost 10 days passed and there was still no development, leading us to make up our minds to go back home. Compared to India, less medical facilities in Dhaka was one of the reasons to come back. Moreover, the 25 per cent reduction in salary announced by the company further added to the financial issues. So, staying back was becoming all the more challenging with each passing day.
I also wrote an email to the Indian Foreign Ministry expressing my need to come back, but got a standard reply, asking me to contact the Indian High Commission in Dhaka for the same. Finally on 13 May, I received an email from the Indian High Commission, asking me to confirm in 30 minutes if I wished to go back. It also mentioned that the flight would be for the next day, 14 May at 10 am. I immediately confirmed and started packing. Next day, I paid Rs. 18,000 BDT for ticket at the airport, and finally reached India.
But the journey was not over yet, as upon reaching India, I had to face challenges I had not even thought of. After 4 hours of completing necessary formalities like medical check-up, counselling, etc., I reached a hotel to be quarantined for 12 days. Apart from putting up with the below par services and facilities, I had to pay Rs. 4,500 for a medical check-up at the hotel in addition to the overall bill of Rs. 24,000.
On the whole, I had to shell out around Rs. 50,000, which was indeed a big blow, especially in a situation when my salary had been deducted. 150 Indian expats from Bangladesh RMG industry are back to their country so far, and almost everyone shares a similar story.
As we conclude after reading the aforementioned experiences, it is to be underlined that thousands of mid-level professionals have undergone different kinds of hardships in a chase to reach their hometowns, travelling through different routes via different modes of transport. The mismanagement by various government officials as well as the poor execution of official instructions only aggravated their miseries. Add to that, the majority of factories did not come forward to support their staff.
On the other hand, some NGOs as well as film stars like Sonu Sood have set an example by supporting migrant workers in making their journeys safe and easy. Come to think of it, was it not the responsibility of Indian apparel exporters to support their mid-level professionals, in the first place?