Mohammad Arbaaz Khan is a 20-year-old boy I met in the village of Bhitiarwa in West Champaran, Bihar. I was talking to Kamlesh Kumar, a migrant who had returned home from Jalandhar, Punjab, when I saw Arbaaz sitting behind two people on a bike. He rushed to me and said, “I also want to say something.”
He had heard that a team had come from Delhi and they were interviewing migrants who had returned home and he wanted to express the experience he had. After finishing the interview with Kamlesh, we went to the terrace at Arbaaz’s house.
I asked him where he had come rushing from and he said: “there is hardly any employment in the village but today I was called for some labour work so I was there.” He added that the daily wage rate is 200 and this was only the second day that he had found work since he came back from Aurangabad three weeks ago.
I asked him why he had migrated to Aurangabad in the first place, he said, “I had just given my class ten exams and the problems at home were burdening my family. I had to migrate at the age of 16.”
He migrated and worked as a helper in a bag shop for a few years and there he learnt electronics and now he’s an electrician. He said, “I used to earn 10,000 rupees per month and would send 7,000 to my family.”
He was the primary earner for his family of six. He has to support a younger brother, two younger sisters and his parents. His father works as a labourer in the village but that income wasn’t enough to support the family, his father would also fall sick often. This pushed Arbaaz to move to Aurangabad.
When the lockdown was announced, his employer asked him to continue staying and he gave him enough ration but unfortunately, couldn’t pay him his salary. So I asked him when he was getting everything he needed, why did he have to leave?
He said, “there was no problem for me, I was happily eating and living there but my family depends on me for everything. After a month passed, they had no money left to survive. So I decided to come back.” Arbaaz’s journey was nothing short of incredible; he started walking from Aurangabad and found kind truck drivers who gave him a lift for a few kilometres. He even paid truckers to take him a few hundred kilometres.
He said “I only had 500 rupees, so I decided I would walk the whole way and not take a lift. I would stop when I felt tired and take rest under the shade of a tree. After a certain point, I started feeling very hungry so I judiciously started spending my money on food and travel.” It took him eleven days to reach his village.
I was especially impacted by Arbaaz’s journey because I am older than he is, and he is supporting his whole family, while I still depend on mine. His story is not unlike most of the youth in rural India and those who have migrated to urban India; they have taken the responsibility to take care of their families at an age when privileged youth like me and you are still trying to figure out what we want from our lives.