New Delhi: Rakesh Ram fractured his left leg a year and half ago in an accident at his village in Bihar’s Chhapra district. The doctors implanted a 12-inch rod in his leg for proper alignment during healing.
“The rod will be taken out after two years. I cannot walk long distances. It pains a lot,” the 24-year-old says as he pops in a pain-killer and goes about his work cleaning trains at the New Delhi Railway Station’s maintenance yard.
Back at his home in Sheetalpur village, his wife is due to give birth in a few days. Last month, he had sent Rs 6,000 to her from the Rs 12,000 he earned working for a private contractor.
He hasn’t got any salary for April so far. “We usually get our salary by the 12th day of the month. This time, there is nothing so far…maybe because there is lesser work due to the lockdown,” Ram says.
A part of his last month’s salary also went to his two brothers who are stuck on the Delhi-Haryana border due to the travel restrictions.
The brothers worked in a footwear manufacturing unit in Bahadurgarh, but the coronavirus lockdown rendered them jobless.
They set out for home when the government started ‘Shramik Special’ trains, but were caught on the border by police, Ram says.
He says he filled a form a few days ago to board a special train being run to take migrant workers home. “But nothing has happened. Now the thanewala says take Rajdhani (Express) to go home”.
“They have started Rajdhani, but I don’t have Rs 3,500 for a ticket. Many of us who want to go home cannot afford the cost of travel in a Rajdhani train,” Ram rues.
“I cannot even borrow money from my friends working here. They too are in a similar situation,” he says.
What Ram cannot understand is why the people who work for the railways itself cannot be sent home on Rajdhani.
“Itna to madad milna hi chahiye. (They help us with this at least),” he says, adjusting his loosened yellow mask.
He is worried what will happen if his wife goes into labour without him or any of his brothers present at home.
“My parents are old and my wife needs care. Mummy wants at least one of us (three brothers) to be there,” he says.
Ram says he would have set out on foot, like countless others are walking hundreds of kilometres, but he cannot walk long distances due to the rod in his leg.
“If I walk too much, the leg swells up. A group of coworkers from Bihar left for their villages a few days ago. They asked me to join them. I denied, he says. “I would have slowed them down too.”
With no money left on him, Ram doesn’t have a place to sleep. For the last few days, he has been living in a container along with seven others in the yard.
“Our contractor lets us use the 20X8 feet container. We use the toilets inside the trains and bathe with the help of water pipelines provided along the length of the platform to fill the tanks in coaches, he says.
The steel container has two small windows and an emergency light.
Ram’s coworker, Md. Amjad Ali from Bihar’s Begusarai, is still holding onto hope that things will return to normal and he will have enough money to go home soon.
“There’s not a single paisa in my pocket right now,” Ali says, as he eats the remaining morsels of khichdi in his plate.
“I have been doing this work for two months. We got our salaries last month. I am awaiting the wages for April, then I will go home,” he says, and asks if some help can be sent to the “workers stuck in the yard”.
“We get just one meal during the day. We have been sleeping empty stomachs,” he says, before running towards a man who called out his name.