On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown across India to contain the spread of Covid-19. Shortly after, hundreds of thousands of daily-wage labourers began long and desperate journeys – often on foot – towards their homes. Some of them, such as 32-year Dashrath Yadav, had already got an inkling of the situation. On March 23, Yadav left Ahmedabad in Gujarat along with 12 other men for Bhimsour village in Rajasthan’s Banswara district, a journey of 240 km. They walked 90 km and got rides the rest of the way.
Yadav, who had barely eaten and had swollen feet, finally reached home by the night of March 25. Shortly after, he told Scroll.in about the hardships of the journey.
On Sunday, Scroll.in contacted Yadav again to find out what his life has been like since he returned. Yadav has isolated himself, as per the instructions of local authorities. His feet have healed, but, in this interview translated from the Hindi, he spoke about the bigger worries to face. His neighbours have been regarding him with suspicion even though he has tested negative for the novel coronavirus. And he wonders if he will he have a job after the lockdown is lifted.
‘I am in self-quarantine’
“My feet are fine now. I have two houses, half a kilometre apart. I live in the new house, and my mother, three sisters, wife and two children live in the other. A notice has been put up on my door stating I have been quarantined for 14 days and that no one should meet me during this time.
I eat here and sleep here. My utensils are separate. Food is sent to me by my mother or sisters from my other home.
But not everyone here has two houses or earns Rs 30,000 a month, like I did. There are people with just one house and who perhaps earn no more than Rs 5,000 a month. How can they financially sustain themselves, and where will they live in such circumstances? They can’t live with their families under the same roof, and they cannot be in their fields during the day with this much heat. They might somehow find ways to spend the day outside their houses, but where will they stay or sleep at night? Village conditions are different from city conditions.
‘The villagers are scared of me’
All of us got tested multiple times before reaching here. I got tested thrice. First at Ratanpur [on the border between Gujarat and Rajasthan]. Then at a hospital close to our village. Finally, on reaching home, the sarpanch and health authorities came and took me back to the hospital. Each time, I had to put my finger in a machine for 28 seconds. My results came negative, but three of the men I travelled with tested positive, so they were detained at the hospital.
However, the villagers are scared. They think that I have brought the virus along with me. I am telling them that I have been tested three times, but they won’t listen. Just moments ago, as I stepped out of the house to speak with you, at least 15 people surrounded me and asked me to get a check-up. Won’t they get the virus if they stand so close to one other?
The virus reached India from China, which is so far away. So is it wrong to assume that the virus has entered the country by now and is spreading among people? Why are only people who are coming from outside getting tested? Why isn’t the entire village being tested?
I can’t move freely or walk freely. This feels like life imprisonment. If the idea was to keep us locked up in our homes, the authorities should have made arrangements to get food and all necessities delivered to us properly. The government should have given us at least two days to make arrangements to reach our respective homes, get us checked at the border, provided us transport, before making the lockdown effective.
‘Hunger will kills us, not the virus’
The market is open, but you have to pay for vegetables and groceries. The government has not made anything available to us. Workwise, I believe I can manage until April 14, but I read on WhatsApp today that the lockdown might get extended till June 15 [Editor’s note: the Centre has denied the reports]. I have fields but how much can I earn from farming? The wheat will be harvested, fine, but to grind it, I need money.
I walked for 90 kilometres, but what about those who have to walk for 500 kilometres? I walked for a day, but some are taking four-five days to reach home. How will they get food and water with everything closed along the way? People will anyway die of hunger, forget coronavirus.
I am still seeing videos of people stuck between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. I support the decision to close inter-state borders, but it was done too late. They should have either given us time to reach home before the lockdown or announced the closing of borders immediately and made arrangements for us in our respective cities.”