For almost 13 years, Mumbai has been a second home to 48-year-old Pramod Yadav and his younger brother who came from their native village in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, to work at construction sites and earn a living in the country’s financial capital.
However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, tens of thousands of migrant workers, like Pramod, were forced to undertake a long and painstaking journey from Mumbai and other metropolitan cities in order to return to their native places.
‘Daily labourers like us are hit the hardest by the outbreak, driving us deeper into hunger and poverty,’ shared Pramod in an agonised voice as he waited in the queue for his turn to receive food and facemasks distributed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Besides labourers like Pramod, some were young children and women, carrying with them the life they had built for themselves packed into their small bags.
‘It will take us around three days to reach Gonda and a few more days in a quarantine camp until we finally meet our family,’ said Pramod.
As the Covid-19 outbreak battered Mumbai and other parts of the country, many vulnerable sections including daily wage-earners and migrants lost their livelihoods, leaving them with no other option but to return to their hometowns.
Indian Railways and Maharashtra Government arranged special ‘Shramik Express’ trains which continue to ferry distressed migrants back to their native villages.
Hundreds of such special trains were arranged daily from Mumbai and suburban areas, Pune, Nagpur and Nasik. Besides taking these special trains, many helpless migrants also travelled hitching rides on buses, vans, cycles or on foot; often hundreds of miles away braving heat, hunger and the scourge of the virus.
In such testing times, Dawoodi Bohra volunteers joined hands with the BMC to make the long journey of migrants a tad less arduous by serving them food, fruits and water at railway and bus stations.
This effort to serve migrants was undertaken by the Dawoodi Bohra community’s global philanthropic initiative – Project Rise. While fresh meals were cooked at the community’s Faizul Mawaid al Burhaniyah kitchens in Mumbai and Nagpur, the distribution of food packets at the respective stations was taken up by the community’s volunteer corps, Burhani Guards.
‘We know the situation is really bad for these workers who are both monetarily and emotionally in a very difficult position. This is the least we can do for them to ensure they have something to eat on their way back home,’ said Yusuf Hakimuddin, spokesperson of Project Rise which has been providing food, water and other essentials during the lockdown period in coordination with the BMC and other local authorities.
Acknowledging the Bohra community’s kind gesture, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of BMC, in a letter to Shahzada Husain Bhaisaheb Burhanuddin stated, ‘Your father His Holiness Dr Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin has always guided your members to serve fellow citizens and this charitable service of your community people in the hour of crisis is highly commendable and appreciated.’
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