Workers flown back to Jharkhand from Mumbai, Leh and Port Blair

Special flights have been landing at Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Airport daily, carrying migrant workers from the state who had got stranded in far-off places and had run out of money

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren inspecting the arrangements
Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren inspecting the arrangements

VP Sharan / Ranchi

The lockdown robbed them of their employment, reduced them to paupers and the uncertainty of a prolonged lockdown with no means of livelihood terrified them. They wanted to leave from home but didn’t know how to do so, confided migrant workers who returned to Jharkhand from Leh and Port Blair in special chartered flights arranged by the Jharkhand Government.

Chief Minister Hemant Soren and his ministers were present at the airport when the flights landed to greet the returnees, many of whom wept when served with meals in thalis by way of greeting.

The feet of many of them were bare. Others had slippers. Most of them carried their belongings in jute bags and bundles that they put on their head. Their clothes were in tatters and they wore haggard looks when they disembarked from the Indigo flight at the Birsa Munda Airport at Ranchi.

Workers flown back to Jharkhand from Mumbai, Leh and Port Blair

None of them had flown before and seemed to have been awed by the experience. Their maiden flights had brought 180 of them from Port Blair and 174 from Leh back to Jharkhand. Some of the passengers from Leh had just a shirt on them and admitted that though it had got very cold, they were helpless. They had planned to return by March-end but got stuck following the lockdown. They didn’t have warm clothes and ran out of money with which they could have bought clothing.

Almost all of them said their employers, who had initially abandoned them, had tried to persuade them to stay back. But they were terrified by the prospect of lockdowns getting extended and having lost their confidence in the employers, they were anxious to leave at any cost.

Workers flown back to Jharkhand from Mumbai, Leh and Port Blair

Most of them sounded incoherent but managed to convey that every single moment filled them with dread and foreboding. Those who returned from Port Blair confessed they realised for the first time why Andaman islands were called ‘ Kaala paani’ by the freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the cellular jail there. Escape seemed impossible with the sea all around and the realisation that they would not be able to afford fare for flights even when they resumed. The icy wind in Ladakh added to the challenging conditions.

Tears of relief streamed down many faces as they thanked the chief minister for arranging the flights.

Workers flown back to Jharkhand from Mumbai, Leh and Port Blair

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Published: 31 May 2020, 7:00 PM