by Father Barnabe D'Souza for BISMumbai

Travel options for homebound migrant labourers are hard to come by. Many are trudging the long walk home with doubled fear, insecurity and anxiety. Men, women, children in tow, fatigued, blister-soled, bearing meagre belongings on heads and shoulders, are opting for any which means to make it home. Unsure of food and water, these homebound multitudes are shelling out anything from Rs. 4000/- upwards to get forged documents, putting up with trickster agents, falsified medical fitness certificates and fraudulent assurances. Boarding onto any vehicle that will reach them to a certain fixed stage on their journey, clambering aboard trucks, vans, containers, and the like, this is nothing short of a long disastrous exodus for most.

Don Bosco Nerul COVID-19 Relief Outreach team analysed the plight of the people afoot along the highways, being taken advantage of by money-siphoning touts and decided to reach out with food-provisions. Prior to this outreach, it studied the modus operandi of the 'agents' moving on 02-wheelers soliciting walking groups of homebound migrants to come to trucks they have 'arranged', charging them exorbitant amounts depending on the distance to be covered to the main junctions, to the state border or their home state. It was discovered that a 'normal size' truck takes upto 50 persons huddled up, or a 'long open truck' has 70-80 persons.This unprecedented movement of peoples across the borders is unimaginable. As per the truck-drivers, the preferred route of the moving multitudes from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai to reach Nashik-Dhule-Jalgaon-Bhusawal -Itarsi to the Maharashtra - MadhyaPradesh border and then take detours to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand further North or eastwards on to Orissa, West Bengal, etc." The onward journey through villages, towns and cities enroute is not too cordial either, with many of these have cut off water supply to the common taps or closed the village barring entry for fear these may be carrying the virus. With very little food and water available, the homebound journey in cramped conditions, is a challenge and a fight for survival, apart from the mowing down of these unfortunate travelling by trucks, vehicle collisions or overrun by speeding trains.

The 'Shramik Special' trains and the State transport buses may have eased the gigantic crowds, as well as the movement of large numbers this past period of the lockdown has dropped the crowds a notch from "gigantic to huge" It is simply the size of the problem that makes it difficult to have just one solution. Eating kurmura or dependent on sugar and chapatis, the starving-suffering have received the foot-nutrition packs provided by Don Bosco Nerul Outreach team with gratitude. tearing open the packets to have the bananas as they have been deprived of food for 02 or more days. Don Bosco Nerul has been doing the round of the highway points for the last week, to help, assist and provide some nutrition to these journeying homebound. This outreach has also helped to chat up with at highway pick-up points and those stranded at junctions. The idea is to strike a deal with truck-drivers or agents to somehow help these men, women and children reach the safety of their home.