Kajal (name changed) is a child in need of care and protection who is placed in a child care institution in Maharashtra. She is a victim of commercial sexual exploitation who will be exiting the juvenile justice system in December 2020 after she turns eighteen. She has been eagerly looking forward to her restoration back to the family. While Kajal’s health, education, and shelter needs are being taken care of by the facility she is staying at, her family has been struggling amid the lockdown. Her family migrated from Bihar several years ago and currently lives in a crowded slum area. The lockdown period has proven to be an extremely difficult time for the family, consisting of Kajal’s mother and two younger siblings, as they have no sources of income. Kajal’s mother used to previously work in a dance bar.
Having migrated from another state, the family does not have a ration card or any other form of social security. The nearby shops have also increased the cost of basic essential items to manifold, making it very hard to procure items of necessity. Prerana, through linkages with other organizations, had been ensuring that essential requirements were being provided to the family on a weekly basis. However, the situation got more challenging for the family when the cases of COVID-19 kept increasing in their neighborhood. The dependence on relief material, along with the scare of the virus, was making the mother feel worried about the well-being of her family. The father was in Bihar, making it more challenging for the mother to manage through the crisis on her own. Hence, she decided that they will go back to Bihar, to her native village where she believed that neighbors would be able to help, and the cases of COVID-19 were also low.
Kajal’s mother had heard from her neighbors that the forms for inter-state travel were being made available at the local police stations. She went to a nearby police station to fill the form where there was already a huge crowd of people waiting for the same. She did not attempt to make her way through the crowd as she was afraid of carrying the virus back to her young children and hence, came back disappointed. The next day, she again gathered the courage and took necessary precautions before stepping out. She waited the entire day and managed to fill the form for herself and her children. The police informed her that there was no confirmation but they would call her as and when her turn comes.
A few weeks went by, till one day she suddenly got a call from the police station at midnight asking her to pack her bags to board the train within the next few hours. She left with her children and belongings, in the early morning of the next day. She paid the amount of Rs. 700/- per person as fare for the travel. The three of them, along with hundreds of others waited for the train, to arrive all day till 7 pm in the evening when they were informed that the train had been canceled. Shattered and tired they came back home. The mother called the social worker, cried slowly, narrated her ordeal, and requested to facilitate the procurement of ration for the coming week.
A few days later, she called the social worker again and informed her that they had boarded a train towards Bihar. She said that the police had called the previous night and informed her about the next train. The train, which the family was traveling in, ran late by two days, without the availability of any food or water. The exhausted family finally reached their destination on the fourth day of their travel. It had taken a lot of courage and suffering for them to reach their village. Speaking to the social worker, she shared that she was not certain if and when she would be able to come back. She constantly expressed her concern for Kajal and kept emphasizing that she believed that the situation will definitely get better by December when Kajal would be restored.
This case brought to light the fate of workers who have migrated to Mumbai but are rendered absolutely helpless amid the lockdown. The pandemic has affected the dignity and self-respect of many by making them depend on relief material for survival. The failure of state systems at various levels are adding to their woes.