The return of Brij Kishore Ahirwar, 45, and his family to his home district Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh from Haryana’s Bahadurgarh town was punctuated by hardship, loss of savings, accidents and other trials and tribulations. Nevertheless, they made it back in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was six years ago that Brij Kishore left his home village Gichauli in Jhansi district in 2014 on getting a job in a tiles factory in Bahadurgarh.
He worked hard to establish himself in the distant town. Thereafter, he took two rooms on rent in Shakti Nagar locality there to shift his wife and three children. The children got admission in a local school and his wife worked as a domestic help in the colony nearby to make ends meet. Besides, he managed to send some money to his parents in the village. For some years, the family was content with urban life.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic jolted everyone out of their comfort zone. After the nationwide lockdown came into force on March 25, the factory owner closed the unit and told the labourers to wait till the government relaxed the restrictions. Brij Kishore’s wife Chunni was also asked not to visit households for domestic work. The family purchased food grains and other edible items with their meagre savings.
After the second lockdown came into force, the landlord started putting pressure on him to pay rent or vacate the rooms. By this time, the factory owner had shifted to Delhi. There was no sign of the factory re-opening as the administration tightened the lockdown as the coronavirus spread in Bahadurgarh, Brij Kishore said.
Their patience started wearing thin, when the government announced the third phase of the lockdown. Again, there was no sign of the factory reopening. Their savings diminished fast and hunger was palpable. On May 4, the family decided to leave for their native village.
“I spoke to a truck driver who was transporting wheat from Haryana and Punjab to Uttar Pradesh. He told us he will charge Rs 2,000 per person. After I pleaded with him, he reduced the amount to Rs 1,500 per person,” Brij Kishore said.
“To arrange the money, I sold our utensils, gas cylinder, TV set and other items to the landlord. We also sold the grain and flour to local labourers. I handed over Rs 7,500 to the truck driver on May 7. He told me to accompany him to Sangrur in Punjab to transport goods. My family was told to wait on the highway. For three days, my wife and children waited on the highway,” he said.
“After picking up the family on the fourth day on May 11, our journey to Jhansi started. The truck driver gave us some food and water. We managed to make space between the grain bags. Policemen stopped the truck on the Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border. But after much pleading, they permitted us to continue the journey,” he recalled.
Near Morena in Madhya Pradesh, a tractor trolley hit the truck in which Brij Kishore and his family were travelling. They sustained minor injuries, but police personnel gave them first aid and food. They were permitted to continue the journey. Near the Jhansi border, police again stopped the truck as a bus carrying migrants was hit by another truck. Around half-a-dozen injured migrants were taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Finally, the truck driver dropped Brij Kishore and his family near the Jhansi border on Sunday morning. The Ahirwar family walked 10 kilometres to reach a police post on the border. From there, they were taken to a quarantine centre established in a school near Babina.
“I lost my job, savings and escaped accidents, but managed to return to my native place with my family,” he said.