Reverse migration spreads to Nepal

Migrant workers plan to walk hundreds of kilometres from Kathmandu to reach home

Kathmandu, March 31

Hundreds of daily wage earners stranded in Kathmandu valley have started embarking on a long walk home after the government extended the lockdown, clamped to contain spread of coronavirus disease, by a week till next Tuesday. The same phenomenon is being witnessed in neighbouring India as well where hundreds of thousands of daily wage earners have taken to the streets to reach home on foot.

In Nepal also, these people will have to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes, and they are resolute on completing their journey, as they have started running out of money here to buy food and cover other expenses.

Indrajit Mahato, 52, a construction worker, is one of the persons who has decided to cover 300 km on foot to reach his hometown in Siraha district.

His entourage consists of his wife, two sons and three other friends from his home district.

“We had no option but to return home as we ran out of food stock this morning. And we do not have money to survive in the city,” said Mahato, who was spotted at Gatthagar last evening. When THT met him, he and his team had already walked for more than an hour from Maharajgunj, where they were living.

Mahato and those accompanying him did not have proper shoes to wear. They did not even have Rs 2,000 in their pockets. And they did not have any plan on where to stop over at night. But they are confident about reaching home in five to six days. “We can complete the journey within that time if we sleep and take breaks on the roadsides for six to seven hours a day,” said Mahato. But none of them was carrying sleeping bags or light mattresses.

Mahato and those accompanying him knew the journey was going to be tough for them, but life has never been easy for daily wage earners like him who become early victims of any crisis that hits the country.

“The cash we are carrying will be enough to buy food for several days.

We have also carried bread, couple of kilograms of beaten rice and some dalmoth (dry snacks),” Mahato’s wife Sarita said. “Let’s see if we can hitchhike every now and then.”

Hundreds of low-wage migrant workers like Mahato, who are fast running out of money, have started walking home from the valley, as no public buses are plying the streets due to the lockdown, which started on March 24. The government had initially said the lockdown would continue till March 31 morning but it later extended it till April 7 midnight.

The one-week extension has made things difficult for many migrant workers, especially daily wage earners.

Lately, district administration offices are allowing migrant workers to be transported to their hometowns.

But many are left behind as the information has not been well disseminated.

At around 7:00pm yesterday, Krishna Thapa, 51, and his daughter Asmita, 17, were spotted at Jadibuti in Kathmandu. The father and daughter had come to Jadibuti from Basundhara as one of their close relatives had promised to book a bus ticket for them to travel to their home at Khurkot in Sindhuli.

“We were told to arrive here at five, but it’s already seven and the bus has not arrived yet. The person who had promised to book the ticket has also stopped receiving my calls,” said Krishna.

Around that time some other people, who were supposed to take the same bus to Sindhuli, had also gathered at Jadibuti. But since there was no sign of the bus coming to pick them up, they were all set to walk home.

“I hope we can reach our village by tomorrow evening if we start walking now,” said Santa Thapaliya from Sindhuli. This afternoon THT met people in Jadibuti who were planning to travel to Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk on foot.

“We are not obstructing people, who must visit home, from taking vehicles,” said Bhaktapur Chief District Officer Humakala Pandey, adding, “If people want to visit their ailing parents, have to attend to their pregnant wife or rush home because of somebody’s death or because of a newborn baby, then we allow them to do so.”