<br>One can find groups of men and women on the national highways heading to their home states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha.
With Shramik trains too inadequate to cater to lakhs of migrant workers and with no hopes of any alternate transport arrangements, they have set on a 700-1000 km journey by walk.
With no money in hand, braving scorching heat, hunger and the perils that wait ahead — of meeting with accidents or falling ill — they are not ready to spare those thoughts. These motley crowds just keep walking, all in the hope that they will finally make it to their home.
“It may take 15-20 days but at least we will reach home. How long we can wait here,” said Sujit Kumar, a migrant worker from Jharkhand, who along with 15 others set out on the long journey, fully aware of the risks they face.
They were evicted from temporary shelter by a construction company in Hyderabad after they refused to work. As the government has relaxed lockdown norms to allow construction activity, work has resumed at some sites in the city.
However, the majority of the migrant workers, who constitute over 70 per cent of the labour force in the construction sector, want to go home.
“It has been nearly two months without work and wages. We are worried about our families in Jharkhand and want to be with them. The company asked us to either resume work or leave the shelter. They have not paid wages for one-and-half months. We had no other option but to walk,” the worker said.
Telangana has 7.5 lakh migrant workers and majority of them are employed in construction sector, small and medium industries and hotels in and around Hyderabad. The migrants in other districts are working in brick kilns, granite industry, agriculture fields, irrigation and electricity projects.
In perhaps the most tragic incident, an eight-year-old girl working in chilli farms in Telangana died last month after she walked for three days with few others to reach her home in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.
The fate of many others who undertook a similar journey to states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and even Uttar Pradesh is not known.
The workers are desperate to return home. Some are resorting to protests, demanding the authorities to make transport arrangements for them while many are suffering in silence by walking towards home.
Trade union leaders said the repeated extensions of lockdowns, no wages for two months and lack of communication from the families back home have added to their desperation.
Though officials have asked the workers to register their names with the nearest police station so that they can be informed about the transport arrangements, they admit that the limited number of Shramik trains being run can't cater to the requirement.
Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao had announced 40 special trains every day for migrant workers but he too admitted that there are limitations as the state has to seek consent of other states before sending the workers.
Neighbouring Andhra Pradesh has also seen a series of protests by migrant workers wanting to return home. There were protests by hundreds of workers working at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Mangalagiri near Vijayawada and also at Polavaram projects.
Dozens of migrant workers can be seen walking along the national highway near Vijayawada. Many were coming from Chennai and heading to Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam in north coast Andhra or to Odisha and Jharkhand.
A group of migrant workers walked for six days from Chennai to reach Vijayawada. They had covered only 450 km and still have a very long journey ahead of them. “What can we do? We ran out of money and were not even getting food in Chennai. It is better to fight by walking instead of dying of hunger there,” a worker said.
It was not a journey only through the highway. They were walking off the highway at a few points to avoid the police check posts. They knew that if intercepted by police they will be either sent back or will be sent to quarantine centres.