Translated from Kokborok by Bibhuti Debbarma
Migrant workers have faced huge problems due to the lockdown in India. They travel outside their state to find livelihood and work opportunities, which are not available in their own state. Unable to travel home due to the trains and transport being shut down, they were stranded in different parts of the country, with no employment and place to live. When the government finally arranged for their transport back home after months, many were put in quarantine upon arrival in their home states.
In the Sepahijala district of Tripura, I met one such woman who was put under home quarantine when she returned. I interviewed Sonia Debbarma, who had gone for work to Hyderabad and was put under quarantine for 14 days when she returned home in June.
Khumtia: How did you come back from Hyderabad, and what was the trip like?
Sonia: By train. The four-day journey from Hyderabad to Agartala was very difficult. The journey was free of cost, and all of us were wearing masks during the entire journey. From Agartala railway station, we came to our village by bus. When we arrived, they checked our tongues and noses to see whether we had a cough and cold. The test came out negative, but we still were home quarantined. Like me, many others in Sepahijala district have been in quarantine.
I had a dream of working in Hyderabad to earn good money. My brother has been working there for the last five years, and he used to send money home for our parents and us. Since we don’t have enough money for my marriage, my mother was always concerned. Seeing her worry so much, I told my brother that I would also like to come to Hyderabad to earn money for my marriage, and my brother agreed to support me in that. So, I went to Hyderabad and started working in a shop.
Just as I completed one month of my work there, the lockdown was announced, and the shop had to shut down. All my dreams got shattered, and I had to come back to my village in Tripura.
Just like Sonia, there is another young girl, Kalpana, who came back from Kolkata and was under home quarantine. They have a very small house, and that made it impossible to segregate her in her home, and she is staying with other family members.
Khumtia: What were you doing in Kolkata?
Kalpana: I was working as a nurse in a hospital in Kolkata.
Khumtia: How did you come back from Kolkata? Did you have to undergo any tests there?
Kalpana: I came back from Kolkata by flight. Before collecting the boarding pass, our temperature was checked. Then from there, we had to collect a form from another counter. After filling the form, we boarded the flight.
Khumtia: After arriving in Agartala, did they test you again?
Kalpana: I will have to go for a COVID test again. The authorities will inform us when that will happen, but I don’t think I will test positive. I don’t have any symptoms. But I have to wait till the swab test is done so that I can know for sure whether I have the virus or not.
Khumtia: Why did you quit the nursing job in the hospital?
Kalpana: I came back because many COVID-19 patients were coming to the hospital, and the staff were leaving one by one. Those who were still at work were under a lot of pressure. At this time, I thought that I have to be careful about my life too. If I remain healthy, I could find another job in another hospital and earn money. That’s why I quit and came back.
Khumtia: Did you attend to any COVID-19 patients as a nurse?
Kalpana: Yes, I did. We, the doctors and nurses, had to strictly follow the rules like wearing PPE kits and limited contact with the patients.
Khumtia: What is the situation like at home now?
I’m the younger of two sisters. My elder sister is also away from home, working in Bengaluru. Despite being daily wage workers, my parents educated us up to 12th standard. After 12th, I had an opportunity from the government to complete my college studies. I always had a dream of earning a lot of money to get my elder sister married.
I also wanted to take good care of my old parents. I thought I could do this by working in Kolkata, but now my family will have to go through a hard time. There’s nothing we can do; the lockdown rules have to be followed. We just somehow wanted to get back home and save ourselves. Now we have to find some work in the village itself to sustain ourselves.
A lot of tribal youth from Tripura migrate to other cities for work, but they are also very concerned about their community and its welfare. Due to the lockdown, just like the youth from our state, hundreds and thousands of people have had to go back home and find work in their villages. I hope the government will find ways to ensure employment to such skilled youth and that the world becomes safe for them to pursue their dreams again.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.