Skip to main content

Safe return Prabhatji! My first encounter with a migrant worker enroute his village

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*
It was a routine morning walk around 8.00 am nearby my apartment complex, when I met with Prabhatji (Singh). A short bearded middle-aged man, Prabhatji was cladded in a clean black security guard uniform with a handkerchief covering his mouth and a black backpack by his side. He was sitting under a Peltophorum Tree outside the compound wall when I approached him.
Prabhatji was taking rest while enroute his walk planned from Ahmedabad to a village in Mehsana district, which is over 75 kilometres from here and he had already walked some kilometres since the dawn. We are reading so much about migrant labours’ mass exodus these days by foot and cycle and Prabhatji is my first encounter to this reality and a memorable one. The rounds of short conversation unfolded here had life learning that are unforgettable.

 First round: 

With a concern, when asked why he is going home and that he must stay here securing his job and protecting himself from corona. He replied with a smile that, “mere paas achcha (good) knowledge hai aur mei soch samajh ke ye decision liya hoon (I’ve good knowledge and I’ve decided thoughtfully)”. When asked why he decided to leave today after the days of lockdown and if he had a cycle it would be better to cover the distance.
I told him the story of the boy who cycled from Maharashtra to Orissa. Prabhatji works at Shree Sharda Security Forces (logo stitched on his uniform) through which he was appointed as a security guard at an building complex. He quickly added, “Arey Behanji, I dreamt of becoming an army personnel and see, I ended up becoming a security guard. You see, I’m wearing the dress of the security guard hoping that the police will not bother and beat me on the way. I also have a cycle from the office but did not ride it today because I don’t know when I shall return now due to the corona and the lockdown...”
I appreciated his being a security guard saying that he too is working for the safety of the people, rather more closely than the army. He gave an unconvincing smile. After showing a bit more concern on his decision to walk, he said, “Behnaji aap jao, mereko kuch nahi hoga, mei ghar pahonch jaunga, aap chinta mat karo.” Hearing this, I walked back home uncomfortably without him knowing that I’ll return. My flat is barely 200 meters from where we met.

Second Round: 

Within ten minutes, I was back to his surprise showing disagreement to his decision to walk those long miles and bringing him some snacks, fruits, and cash. While accepting the offers with a smile, Prabhatji reinstated his instinct to go because of this corona and his society Saabs (addressing members with a respect). He was upset of the Saabs indecisions on locking and unlocking the main gate of the building complex as they were fighting amongst each other and as he was at the receiving end of the bashings from either side.
When the country is affected with religion, interestingly, Prabhatji had regional narrative as, “I’m a Gujarati Asli Thakore (must mean a lot for him!) and serving at a building complex where people are mostly from Rajasthan. Arey, these Rajasthani Saabs do not understand much of corona and lockdown, and they do not know to obey the country’s rules... But there is also a nice Army Wala Saab from Madhya Pradesh who consoled me a few times to stayover in the job…. I’m also upset with the rising corona tension and loneliness here and thus started missing his village and relatives…”
With a long pause, “… but you see I am a Gujarati and our Bada Pradhan (Prime Minister) is also a Gujarati, so I have to listen to what he says. He said we must stay in the houses, so I want to go to my house. And then Modi is from a village next to mine (Mehsana) that is Vadnagar, so I’ve all the more reasons to follow the rules, whether I like it or not because, Rupani, who is our Pradhan of Gujarat, is also Gujarati and he is also saying about corona and lockdown…”
I nodded in agreement with him and asked for his mobile number which went unheard. By then it was nearly fifteen minutes we were in conversation...
So, who is there at your house where you wish to return? Immediately, “Everyone is there! I lost my wife some years ago and life after that has been kind of lonely. We have a son whom I left with his maternal uncle in the village when I came to Ahmedabad. My brothers and other family members also live nearby in the village. I’m remembering them a lot being lonely and worried of corona.”
Did you inform them about your walking plan? “...Yes, I had called them yesterday and people there were saying me to stay back in the city else, he may be jailed or beaten up by the police or catch corona on the way. Therefore, I did not tell them that I left today. Anyway, I don’t have a phone to inform them. So, when I get a chance to talk to them, I’ll inform them.” 
Then I asked for a phone number to keep track of his safe arrival to his village. He did not have a phone as he gave it to his son. So, I took out my phone and asked for his son’s number.
I insisted again on his return to work telling him the risks of walking such long distance because of heat, infection, food and police. He was like, “I know nothing will happen to me.” Pulling out a small red diary from the front pocket of his shirt and flipping the pages to find a number he continued, “…here is a number of Harishbhai, we call him Lala.” He said the number in English. I tried calling the number thinking that it will let him talk to his family and his family too will come to know of his walking plan, but there was no response from the other side.
While flipping his little red diary, he stopped at the backside of the cover showing a photo said, “…Do you know him? He is Osho! I believe in Osho!” There was this spark in his eyes which I got tempted to capture in a photo, so when asked for it, he smiled and agreed to be shot (the photo here).
The conversation was going easy by now and I continued listening to his polite cultured accent more to express my solidarity and concern and importantly hear him out “...As long as I’ve trust in him (Osho), I know nothing will happen to me and I’ll reach my destination... I’m aware of the police and the poor people who are walking... but you see, I’ve the security guard dress on, so the police will think I’m going for my duty... slowly this way I’ll keep walking and may reach my village by late night, if I’m not stopped...” 
Expressing my consent on his confidence, I asked his plans of walking route, food, rest, “...I’ll go along this highway first to Adhalaj (the famous stepwells) and then head for Mehsana...”
By then, I was in two minds as what if I drive him to Adalaj, he resonated, “Can you please do something to bring me to Adalaj….can you drive me upto there…” we looked at each other with a puzzle and after a pause he said “…. No no Behanji, you leave it, since the police is stopping people everywhere. Anyway, you are thinking too much about me, which is nice, but I’ll find my way...”
We discussed the possible shorter route free of police checking... after a while he got up to leave... in few minutes he had crossed the railway track nearby… I stood there waiting his silhouette to fade away from my sight just like, we see off people at the railway stations when the train slowly starts moving and after a while goes out of sight… we usually pray for the traveler’s safe journey while waiving our hands… I did the same for Prabhatji and returned to my flat.

Final Round:

At home, I narrated the event with no dismay to get a reaffirmation of the social distance existing in the country especially in the minds of the many educated elites. I was told that it is naïve to be talking to a stranger and getting carried away listening to his plight. That, I should be more cautious (agree) in this COVID time and not be trusting people like this (disagree). I could relate this reaction with the big eyes from a society member who was dog-walking while he saw me conversing with Prabhatji.
Anyway, I shut my mouth to start my virtual teaching sessions of the day but in my mind, I was already thinking of writing this article. After an hour or so, I got a call from Prabhatji’s family whom I had called earlier to connect him but could not do so. It was Harishbhai from Mehsana on the other side who said that he had a talk with Prabhatji yesterday and that the family has insisted him to stay in Ahmedabad and not walk to Mehsana.
I informed Harishbhai that Prabhatji is already walking his way to Mehsana and has left Thaltej area (my location) at around 9.00 am. He shall take the Adalaj route and is expected to reach the village sometime in the midnight. I requested Harishbhai to inform me once Prabhatji has reached and allow me to speak to him.
That wasn’t all! I spent the whole day mind mapping as where Prabhatji might have reached at that time while raising the apathy of the migrant labours on the social media and at home. I slept through his thoughts overnight, since this was my first encounter with a migrant labour who though was on a shorter walk than the many others and probably may have an advantage because of his security guard’s uniform as he said.
Still, Prabhatji’s distresses of the corona lockdown, his profession, his personal life; then his determination to follow the law of the land; his dedication to Osho’s faith; and his daring to decide to walk like many other migrant labours, left me with a lot of questions and learning. I’m grateful to everything that I have and therefore it is all the more important that the least I must do is to trust the people around me including the strangers and treat them with respect.
I made up my mind to write this article because of being in that uncomfortable thoughts. While penning, I called Harishbhai to find out if Prabhatji has reached home in Mehsana. Harishbhai responded of being unaware of his arrival since he left the village early morning for his labour job. I requested him to update me on this so I shall call in some time.
I get a call back in ten minutes to hear from Harishbhai that, “Prabhatji has returned to his house in Vastrapur (in Ahmedabad) and shall resume work soon. And he mentioned he met you Behanji! But since he calls from other’s numbers, I cannot connect you to him.” I was relieved and relived our conversation while completing this article.
I don’t know what made Prabhatji change his plans of walking to Mehsana and instead stay back at Ahmedabad. I do know that the least I could do is lend my ears to hear him for that hour when he looked in distress. I also know that poor people are not always looking for a charity on them, instead what they seek is more dignity in the community.
I hope and wish that the local governments and the local communities across the country make the poor migrants feel at home in the cities not by only food and ration in the COVID time but ensure more employment security and better quality of life in the long run. This must emerge as a crucial COVID learning to let the society change. Safe Return Prabhatji! Take care!
---
*With Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad as Partner and recently joined Amity University Chhattisgarh, Raipur as professor; entrepreneur, researcher, educator, interested in learning and sharing, a keen social-political observer

Comments

kiran said…
I applaud the humane spirit of the author and the affection with which she approached the person and then penned her encounter and thoughts in a very sensitive manner. Keep writing and awakening the masses and especially the top brass from their insensitivity and deep slumber.

TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Denying dissent democratic space in Gujarat: 'sad narrative of eroding ethical values'

By Sandeep Pandey*  A padyatra (foot march) was to be taken out between 26 September and 4 October, 2022 from Randhikpur village in Dahod district of Gujarat to Ahmedabad to apologise to Bilkis Bano. Randhikpur is Bilkis Bano’s village. In 2002 Gujarat communal violence she was gang raped, her 3 years old daughter, another child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 people were convicted and sentenced for life in 2008. However, on 15 August, 2022 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech from Red Fort appealing to people to change their attitude towards women and treat them with respect, a district level committee of Panchmahal decided to release the 11 rapists and murderers. A Bhartiya Janata Party leader described four of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins. Before the padyatra could begin from Randhikpur, on 25 September night, 7 activists were picked up from Godhra corporator Hanif Kalandar’s house where they had gone for d

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

GoI 'feeling threatened' by forces which can potentially fight 'Brahmanical fascism'

Counterview Desk  A network of civil rights and people’s organisations , Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)*, has characterised the recently-imposed ban on Popular Front of India (PFI), National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) and other organisations as “Brahmanical Hindutva fascist” move of the Government of India (GoI), calling it “onslaught on democratic dissent”. In a statement, CASR said, the move is aimed at terrorizing and vilifying the Muslim community, adding, at the same time, the GoI is curbing any protest and demonstration against the “fascist diktat of ban”, with peoplebeing “detained and arrested.” It added, “This kind of attack on right to oppose or criticize any step of government should be conceived as an attack on the very democratic values of the people.” Text : On 28 September 2022, Central Government led by BJP-RSS banned the Popular Front of India, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Campus Front of India, National Wom

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Paradox? Heavy military deployment has had 'tangible success' in enhancing J&K security

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk*  An ethnically diverse Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition in 1947. Despite both countries claiming full control over the region’s entirety, Kashmir is divided between them, into an Indian-administered part and a Pakistan-administered part. For the last three decades, Indian-controlled Kashmir has been characterised by unrest due to a separatist insurgency opposing the Indian rule. Although India’s fragile relationship with Kashmir is not a new issue, tensions intensified when in 2019 India revoked Article 370, depriving the region of its special status and a certain degree of autonomy attributed to it. Article 370 allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution and to make decisions regarding property ownership and permanent residency. As a result, Indians from other parts of the country were not able to purchase property and settle in Kashmir. Scrapping Kashmir’s special status me