These 13 Migrant Workers From Odisha Used Their Presence Of Mind To Stay On The Radar

The heartening story of how they got themselves some help in a faraway Pune district

Sanghamitra Chakraborty Published Apr 3, 2020 12:57:52 IST
These 13 Migrant Workers From Odisha Used Their Presence Of Mind To Stay On The Radar The labourers' selfie that caught Balangir MLA Mukesh Mahalinga's attention (Photo: Dr Abhijit More)

In the midst of the corona crisis—and lockdown—the tragedy of migrant labourers, either trying to desperately return home or stuck in remote areas, without resources, has weighed heavy on the nation’s conscience. According to reports, almost 22 migrants have died due to lockdown-related causes. The most horrific, needless, facet of this is that many of them had likely fallen off the radar when they needed emergency aid the most. One small group of migrant labourers, however, bucked this and found a lifeline through their presence of mind.

On March 27, about 13 workers from a factory in Sainath Nagar in Nigdi, Pimpri-Chinchwad in Pune district, were desperate, caught in an alien land in the lockdown. From different districts of Odisha—mainly Balangir—they had been employed as temporary workers in an auto-parts factory in the area.

On the evening of March 24, when the nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they decided to hunker down, rather than try to hit the highway and return home. However, in the following three days they sensed trouble.

Says 26-year-old labourer Saroj Kumar Pradhan: “Our company closed and being temporary workers we did not have enough money. Since there was no transport to get away, we decided to stay on. Soon, we realized our food was going to run out, and we had no money. We sensed that without any help we would all be in big trouble.”

On the afternoon of that Friday, March 27, they knew they were going to be stranded without food or money and decided to send out an SOS. They went up to the terrace of their quarters and decided to take a photo. Looking straight into the camera, they folded their hands and pleaded to be rescued and shot a selfie.

This photo reached Balangir MLA Mukesh Mahalinga, who posted it on his social media. The news was quick to reach Balangir’s labour office, which got in touch with Dr Abhijit More, an activist of the Jana Swasthya Abhiyan in Pune.

Says Dr More: “We have been doing relief work in the area for the past week, so the moment I got the news, we started looking for local volunteers who could rush aid to these stranded migrants.” He contacted Sachin Desai, Dr Beti and Swapnil Jawale, all volunteers of the Jan Arogya Abhiyan, an umbrella activist network in Maharashtra. These volunteers jumped in and, no sooner, ration was delivered to these stranded workers.

These migrant workers are very clear that they need to be indoors and stay safe now. “We are getting all our information from our mobiles and want to stay safe and keep others safe by staying in,” says Pradhan, on behalf of his group. Also they are perhaps exposed to the law-enforcing authorities, who in certain cases have been excessively harsh. And so these 13 workers from Odisha, who stayed afloat in these troubled times with their quick thinking, are waiting eagerly for the lockdown to end so they can go home to their families.

And for the rest of us, it is heartening that in these times of distress and chaos, socially concerned, community-minded people are coming together to restore order.

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