The nationwide lockdown, which has been enforced to contain the coronavirus spread, has resulted in several migrant labourers across India to be stranded in their adopted cities, with little income and means of survival. Even while the authorities have stepped in to provide them with relief and enable some of them to return home, desperation has driven many to walk or cycle several hundred kilometres just to get home. Noida-based filmmaker Vinod Kapri accompanied one such group on a 1200-km journey from Ghaziabad to their native place Saharsa, in Bihar.
The filmmaker came in contact with the group in mid-April. “I had been in touch with these people for two weeks, trying to raise funds for their food and other basic amenities,” Kapri tells us, “So, I was shocked upon hearing last week that seven of them had left Ghaziabad and were travelling to their hometowns on second-hand cycles they had bought with the last of their money. Then and there, I decided to accompany them on this journey and document what they go through.”
Kapri and his crew left Noida and met up with the labourers near Moradabad on April 29. “From then on, I was with them for the next seven days and seven nights,” he tells us. Along the way, the group faced a lot of hurdles. Kapri recalls, “Since the lockdown was in place, they had run-ins with the cops in several places. They had to evade checkpoints and stay away from the main road in most districts. One of them, who was tech savvy, used GPS to find walkable routes through the jungles and villages.”
Talking about the challenges of the journey, the National Award-winning filmmaker says, “They (migrant labourers) were riding bicycles in 43-44 degree Celsius. There was no food or clean water. It was very tough.”
Back in Noida, Kapri now plans to release the footage in the form of a documentary to raise awareness about the plight of the migrant workers. “What these guys are facing is huge,” he tells us, “In a way it was motivating for us to watch how they fought the hardships they faced.”