Hyderabad: In every city in India, makeshift labour addas have sprung up where migrant workers gather, exchange information, arrange transport and just cope. Word travels person to person, and thousands gather at these addas each day in the hope of wangling a cheap truck ride a bit closer home.
In Hyderabad, Kandlakoya Junction has become that adda. It lies off the Outer Ring Road (ORR) on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Workers from all over the city come here in the hope of finding a truck that will take them home. Though rides in these trucks are neither cheap nor comfortable, there is no dearth of workers jumping on board.
Trucks line the highway here, although no vehicle is allowed to stop on the eight-lane beltway. Rules never have deterred these drivers, and won't now in the time of corona. These are drivers who are returning after delivering goods in the city, hoping to make a quick buck on the way back.
On Tuesday afternoon, I met a truck driver from Prayagraj who had dropped off a shipment of wheat at a godown in Medchal on the other edge of Hyderabad. He was selling spots on the bed of his truck for Rs 2,000 a spot. There were already at least 60 people on his truck when a group of 12 came up to him asking for space.
“Yes yes, I will drop you in Allahabad proper,” he told them impatiently.
But the men were sceptical as there didn't seem to be any space available. The driver pointed to the roof of the truck. The did were happy to be accommodated. They clambered aboard enthusiastically.
Nearby, another group of men were bargaining with another driver, who said in exasperation, “I have to spend at least Rs 30,000 to bribe people on the way. I can’t reduce the price.”
Most of the migrant workers I spoke to had any money for these “tickets”. However, most drivers were happy to transport them on the promise that they would be paid at the destination.
Only a very few workers said they had received the 12 kg rice and cash promised to them by the Telangana government. They had survived this long in this corona summer on their meagre savings and some charity from NGOs. Only one group from Jharkhand said they had been able to claim the rice and cash supposedly handed out by the state government, but that was a month ago.
“That rice got over a few days ago. We didn’t get anything in May. That's why we want to leave. We don’t have any food,” said one of them.
Trucks are hard to find, especially one going in the general direction of home. Often the workers have to wait for hours. During that wait, the workers are entirely dependent on charity for their food. On a good day NGOs and good Samaritans turn up in the afternoon with food, buttermilk and water.
On Tuesday afternoon, a political party set up a stall at the Kandlakoya adda. Before the food was served out, the leaders wanted to pose for pictures with the workers.
For many, the trip to Kandlakoya from the interior of the city itself is an ordeal. Most workers had to walk hours in the sweltering heat to get here. One group of 10 men from Yousufguda, looking for a trip to Lucknow, had paid Rs 2,000 for an autorickshaw ride.
There were workers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka who assembled at Kandlakoya. One group of workers from Krishnagiri district said it had taken them two days to reach. They'd walked, hitched rides.
Almost all migrant workers told me they had indeed registered for a ride on those Shramik Special trains. However, after more than a week of waiting for news of confirmation, they decided to leave on their own.
Many were eager to show me the messages they had received confirming their registration for the train ride. Azharuddin, from Uttar Pradesh, said, “I kept calling the police station about when the train would run, but they never told us anything.”
Many workers said they would be happy to return once the pandemic ends. In spite of their terrible experiences, they said that they wanted to come back to Telangana and work here.
There were also many who said otherwise. Painter Ram Sharan from Prayagraj, said, “Why would I come back here? Look at us. We are hungry and have no money. Even then we are spending our own money to go home. No one helped us at all. I will never come back to this place.”...