Regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

UP cops ‘thrash’ migrants, 12000 protest

'The policemen told us we were a blot on the face of the country and should die'

Piyush Srivastava Lucknow Published 17.05.20, 07:49 PM
Migrants wait to board a bus in Noida on Sunday.

Migrants wait to board a bus in Noida on Sunday. Picture by Prem Singh

More than 12,000 migrant workers from Bihar gathered on a highway in the western Uttar Pradesh district of Saharanpur on Sunday, alleging police torture at a shelter home and demanding they be allowed to walk the 1,200-odd kilometres home.

The protest comes a day after a truck collision in the state’s Auraiya district killed 26 returning migrants, and chief minister Yogi Adityanath imposed a complete ban on migrants’ road travel, whether on foot or in trucks.


However, some of the labourers gathered on Ambala Road near Tilakhni village in Saharanpur said the police had on Sunday morning caned them inside their shelter home — a community hall — and asked them to leave.

“This morning, 10 policemen arrived and beat us with batons. They told us we were a blot on the face of the country and should die. So we left the place and decided to resume our foot journey,” said Lal Bahadur, 25, who had been stopped in Saharanpur on May 2 while walking home to Siwan, Bihar, from Patiala in Punjab.

Patiala is 170km from Saharanpur, which is another 1,200km from Bihar capital Patna.

“Nobody would know if we die at the shelter homes, where police control entry and exit. Let the world see our deaths on the road,” said Sudarshan Kushwaha, 40.

Saharanpur divisional commissioner Sanjay Kumar, who rushed to the spot with a huge police contingent and over two dozen magistrates, apparently fearing a law-and-order problem as the migrants chanted anti-government slogans, denied the allegations of police torture.

Lal Bahadur said more than 15,000 migrant labourers walking home to Bihar from Patiala and Ambala (Haryana) in small groups had over the past fortnight been stopped in Tilakhni and put up in shelter homes.

The migrants said the police had through these two weeks told them they would be sent to Bihar by train “in a day or two” but had so far arranged only four trains, the last of which left on Wednesday.

Some 9,000 migrants were now staying in the prayer halls of Radha Swami Satsang, a religious ashram, and the remaining 3,000 in a nearby community hall.

“Every day, the officers tell us a train will come for us the next day. This morning, some officers came to the ashram and declared there wouldn’t be any train or bus for the next two weeks. So we decided to resume our journey,” said Chahal Kumar Verma, a 20-year-old electrician from Bettiah, West Champaran, who had been sacked by his Ambala employer after the lockdown began on March 25.

Divisional commissioner Kumar said: “We have sought two days from the migrants to arrange their homeward journey.”

He, however, said there were only “2,500 to 3,000 migrant labourers” in Tilakhni although police sources confirmed the figure of 12,000.

“We had arranged a few trains for some of them. Today, we couldn’t organise any. But now we are making arrangements for buses that would drop them in Chandauli and Deoria, on the Bihar border, from where the government of that state will take them to their home districts,” he said.

Hours after Kumar’s 10am promise, the migrants were still on the road. By late evening, some of them had begun returning to their shelter homes.

“What if the officers say ‘sorry’ to us after two days and seek two more days to arrange for vehicles? There’s no point depending on officers or the government — they don’t exist for us,” said Kushwaha.

Stranded again

Since Saturday’s accident, all the migrants entering Uttar Pradesh from Delhi, Haryana or Madhya Pradesh have been stopped in Ghaziabad, Hapur, Baghpat, Hamirpur, Jhansi and other border districts. Those who had already entered the state and were heading home have been stopped too.

Many of these migrants had arranged transport for themselves — against hefty payments to the bus or truck drivers — but were now stranded again and grappling with uncertainty.

Police sources said most of them had not been provided any shelter or food so far.

Media reports said the police baton-charged the migrants in several districts such as Mathura, Jhansi and Ghaziabad when the labourers tried to continue their journey on foot.

Andra Vamsi, district magistrate of Jhansi where over 4,000 migrants had been stopped since Saturday evening, said: “We were directed to send them home by bus or train, but we don’t have enough buses and the migrants’ number is multiplying by the hour.”

He added: “We arranged two trains on Saturday and are trying for five today (Sunday). But it may take a long time organising trains and buses for the growing number of migrants. Unfortunately, they are not listening to us.”

One of those stopped in Jhansi was Rama Sahu, 30, a migrant from Motihari in Bihar who was travelling home from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, with 20 others in a truck.

“We had paid the driver Rs 1.5 lakh. The police stopped the truck in Jhansi and forced the driver to return,” he said.

“We requested the cops to get the driver to hand back Rs 4,000 out of the Rs 7,500 each of us had paid him. But they ignored us.”

Jabalpur is about 350km from Jhansi, from where Motihari is another 700km.

Media reports said thousands of migrants, including women and children, were stranded in Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Chandauli on Sunday.

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