"I don’t want to go but I don’t have any option either," says a migrant labourer waiting to board a train to Surat. A deep furrow came up between his brows while his eyes spoke of an uncertain fear as he narrated his ordeal of having to live without any jobs to feed his family during this Covid time.
A crisis like never before, this pandemic has struck dread in the minds of Dhanu Pradhan and millions of other labourers who migrate to Surat, Mumbai, Chennai and many other distant trade and commercial hubs beyond the boundaries of state to earn a livelihood.
Between the second wave of the pandemic which is still far from over and a third wave possibly looming near the horizon, mass exodus of migrants from Odisha has once again exposed the sordid tale of unemployment picture in the State.
On Sunday, hundreds of passengers including Dhanu boarded the Puri-Okha Express from Berhmapur Railway Station as they embarked on a journey to Surat.
Many of them had returned to the State a month and half ago after the shutdown of industries due to enforcement of lockdown in the wake of virus resurgence.
It was a déjà vu, says Dhanu, because just a year ago exactly a same picture unfolded before their eyes. But this time, they had hoped of a silver lining in the dark clouds. A bit of work to earn something for the family to tide over the surging wave was all they wanted and the homeward journey promised it as well. But yet again, their aspirations vanished as soon as morning stars did.
Odisha government’s big promises to provide employment opportunities to such a sizeable population of migrants once again fell flat.
The misery of Khallikote resident Balmiki Das is more or less the same. A month ago, he had to come back home after losing work but now he has nowhere to go other than return to Gujarat. He says there is no work in Odisha and there is little hope that one may find any job with ease because of poor employment and the prevailing pandemic restrictions.
“Government is helpless and we are hapless. It is better I return to Surat, at least I will know that we won’t die of hunger,” says an exasperated Balmiki.
With several states beginning to reopen their economies in a phase wise manner after weeks of lockdown, the hopes of a new rise is rekindling in the hearts of many such migrant labourers like Dhanu and Balmiki.
Jitu Bhai Akharia, president of Textile Mills, Surat has urged migrant employees to return back to the city to resume their work. "I welcome the workers to come back to Surat because we are restarting our factories and are waiting for you all," said Akharia.
BJD MP and former trade union leader Subas Singh however played down the migration crisis in Odisha. I accept that people from Odisha are moving to other States and it is because of difference in wages. But there is no such situation that people are moving out of the State along with their families in order to save themselves from hunger.