Locked down, migrant workers are running out of hope

Coronavirus, Migrant workers, Relief camps
Migrant labourers rest in an empty classroom in a school in Thiruvananthapuram | PTI File Photo

Gopal Mandal, a mason from West Bengal, has been living in a school building in Kerala for more than two weeks now. Mandal and a bunch of migrant workers like him have Ernesto "Che" Guevara for company, looking at them from a graffiti on a wall — perhaps an artwork by a student — during a lockdown that seems never-ending to them.

Sprawled on a row of benches inside a classroom, all of them have been spending their days as well as nights mostly staring at their mobile phones, waiting for that one call that would take them home thousands of kilometres away.

As one more anxious night turned into a morning of hopelessness, Mandal makes a frantic call to a Trinamool Congress leader in Gosaba, a deltaic island in the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, pleading to be rescued from the makeshift camp.

Mandal's new companion --  the celebrated Argentine Marxist revolutionary -- had once said that "liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves". It's perhaps the same human determination to liberate oneself from misery that prompted thousands of migrant workers across states to walk their way back home hundreds of kilometres away after the Union government decided to lock down the country, with a short notice of four hours, from the midnight of March 24.

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