Homeward bound

by Padma Bareddy
Rajnandgaon district, Chhattisgarh

Lohars are blacksmiths. They travel from village to village, selling the tools and utensils that they make. This search for work often takes them and their families hundreds of kilometres away from home.

We heard of a group of 32 lohars, originally from Taradehi village in Madhya Pradesh, who were stuck in Sitagota village in Chhattisgarh since the beginning of the lockdown. Sitagota is only 40 km away from the Madhya Pradesh border, but it is more than 400 km away from Taradehi.

The villagers of Sitagota were understanding, and allowed the group to stay within the village borders. For 60 days they lived beneath their pitched tarpaulin tents. They received rations a few times, from different groups. But this wasn’t enough.

To survive, the group had to sell all their oxen. They only got INR 4,000-6,000 for each ox—far less than the INR 7,000-9,000 that they would get otherwise. This was a drastic measure. Oxen are essential to their livelihoods and survival, as this is how they travel from one region to another.

After being forced to sell their oxen, all the lohars wanted was to return home to Taradehi. They tried to arrange transport with a truck driver, who asked them for a payment of INR 35,000. Travelling by truck was their only option, as they needed to transport their tools and disassembled bullock carts along with them.

We asked if they would consider staying back instead. They said, “Ghar ja ke bhooke rehenge, par ghar pe toh rahenge” (We will go home and stay hungry, but at least we will be home).

While the truck driver was in the process of arranging permits for the journey, he became uncomfortable about making the trip and withdrew his assistance.

The villagers of Sitagota stepped in to assist the lohars. With their help, the group managed to find someone willing to transport them back to Taradehi. Together, they acquired the required permits and managed to reach home at a cost of INR 35,000.

With inputs from Vamshi Krishna, Leah Varghese, and the social media team at SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network).

Padma Bareddy is a social development professional and a volunteer at SWAN. 

Know more: Read how the lockdown has exposed the extreme vulnerability of migrant workers, and how it could help to create a system of labour and profit that is more balanced and equitable.

Do more: Connect with the author at padmareddy8@gmail.com to understand more about and support her work.

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