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The long road home for Indian migrant workers

By Agnes McGrane | 26 Aug 2020

We all know the hardship that coronavirus has caused. But what if lockdown meant being forced to leave your home, then make a 400-hundred mile trip on foot with your two small children? This was the reality for Jyoti, from India.

A few months ago, Jyoti and her husband were enjoying life in Delhi. Six years previously they had moved from their small village to find work in the city. They both found jobs in construction, and were happy to be able to send some money back home to support their parents. Settled into their new lives, the couple started their own family – they now have a six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.

Losing everything
However, when the Indian government suddenly announced a lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus, the couple’s work abruptly ended. Overnight, the family was left with no source of income.

No-one knew how long the lockdown would last, or when work would start up again. Week after week passed, and Jyoti and her husband became desperate.

Money and food quickly ran out and their children were going hungry. They managed to survive on small amounts of rice provided by local charities.

Unable to afford to stay in Delhi any longer, the family were forced to leave their home and make their way back to their village. Jyoti helped her children pack up their belongings and prepare for the long journey. Public transport wasn’t running, so they had no option but to start walking.

The village was hundreds of miles away and it would take them days to reach it on foot. With two very small children, Jyoti wondered how – or if – they would make it.

An exhausting journey
The family walked for the whole day, and then continued walking through the night. When they finally rested, they had to sleep out in the open.

They walked for another day. And then another.

Their food and water was running out and they were getting weak. The children were beyond exhausted. But they had to keep walking.

Finally, after four days and nights, they reached the border of their home state. From there, the police were able to arrange transport for the last few miles of their journey.

They were able to reach home safely but arrived empty-handed. ‘We hope nobody else goes through the struggle and the misery we went through to reach home from Delhi,’ shares Jyoti.

It took some time for them all to recover from their long and stressful journey. But the situation in the village wasn’t much better than it had been for them in Delhi. The couple’s parents had been dependent on their income, so now they were also struggling to afford food.

New opportunities
Tearfund’s local partner has been working with the village community for several years. Part of their coronavirus response was to provide work for those who had lost their jobs. Thankfully, they were able to offer both Jyoti and her husband temporary work at the time they needed it most. This was a lifeline – enabling the family to get back on their feet, buy basic supplies and feed themselves.

‘We are thankful to all the project team who gave us timely support. Otherwise, we would have been starving,’ says Jyoti with tears in her eyes.

Jyoti and her husband received a weekly wage and felt valued as workers. ‘We never used to be paid our wages on time by our contractors,’ says Jyoti. ‘Also, they used to behave with us rudely. But here, the project staff are very cooperative and we get respect.’

With work in Delhi uncertain, and coronavirus still spreading, Jyoti and her husband have decided to stay with their parents and continue to work in the village for a while.

Jyoti is much happier now she no longer has to worry about not being able to feed her children. After such a stressful time, she can finally rest easy. The family has a supportive community around them, and they know that help is available if they need it.

PLEASE PRAY

From September, Tearfund will be launching a new series of stories exploring the theme of ‘Home’. Millions of people around the world have been forced from their homes by conflict, persecution and poverty – and we want to make sure that their voices are heard. Look out for these stories in the coming weeks.

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Written by Agnes McGrane