He became another statistic – a phrase that often represents the pain of government apathy; but six months after the nationwide lockdown, 23-year-old migrant worker, Salman Khan's life and death weren’t even worth becoming a data point.
Salman was part of an 11-member group of migrant workers who started walking from Bengaluru to their home in Uttar Pradesh. He walked an incredible 1,200 km over 12 days.
But just as he reached home and was finally about to meet his family, he died of a snakebite while washing his face in a nearby sugarcane field.
Whether Salman’s peculiar case puts him in the list of migrant workers who died during the exodus remains ambiguous. For his family, Salman never made it, despite completing that long walk.
‘Is the Government Blind?'
For the men who walked with him for 12 days, the government not recognizing the death of migrant workers during the lockdown, is nothing short of betrayal. The ordeal, they say, was forced on them.
"“We were forced to walk home because of the government didn’t think of the poor like us before announcing the lockdown. Now the government says they are unaware of the migrant workers who died. Are they blind?”" - Ramesh Chauhan, one of the men who walked with Salman to UP.
The Quint had met this group of migrant workers on May 12, as they were walking out of Bengaluru. Ramesh Chauhan, one of the members of the group had then said, “Can someone tell us if one penny has been given to the migrant workers? If money was given, wouldn’t we be sitting in our rooms and eating? We were lathi-charged and kicked out and that's why we are walking. We don’t enjoy walking like this!”
The Inhuman 1,200 Km Journey
It had been just five months since Salman had come to Bengaluru to work at a construction site when the lockdown was announced. Unable to make enough money to pay for food and not getting any train to return home, he, along with 10 other migrant workers, started walking back to Gonda in Uttar Pradesh.
On the walk back, they often fell short of food. Their progress got slower as many in the group developed blisters under their feet from all the walking. There were points where they were chased away by the police, forcing them to look for other routes to keep moving north. The journey was nothing short of hell for these men.
“We had to wade across through a river because police were not allowing us to cross from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh. We didn’t know the way, so we walked along railway tracks. To escape the police, we walked in pitch darkness at times. Salman was one of the youngest in our group and pushed himself through all this because he wanted to go home,” recollected Ramesh.
'If the Govt Cared, My Brother Would Have Been Alive'
“He was very weak, and his feet were cut really badly when he reached. Before entering, he said he would wash his face and feet and went towards the sugarcane field, where he was bitten by a snake,” said his brother Riyaz Khan.
He was found dead in the field.
Salman's brother didn’t want to talk about the government not keeping a record or providing reimbursements to the families of deceased migrant workers. “If the government really cared, my brother wouldn’t have had to walk all way back home. He would have been alive,” he said.
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