Despite COVID-19 fears, thousands of Nepalis leave for India to earn bread and butter

Published On: November 23, 2020 07:15 AM NPT By: DIL BAHADUR CHHATYAL

Hunger is more dreadful than any disease, forcing us to leave our homeland, they say

DHANGADHI, Nov 23: All major transit points at the Nepal-India border in Sudur Paschim Province these days witness a large number of Nepalis departing for India in search of jobs, despite the COVID-19 fears.

Two major border points in the province, Trinagar and Gaddachauki, which were overcrowded with migrant laborers headed for India even during the major Nepali festivals of Dashain and Tihar this year, are over-flooded with Nepali youths aspiring to seek employment opportunities in the southern neighbor after those festivals are over.

When asked why they were desperate to move to a foreign land amid the heightened fears of the coronaviurs, most of them said that it is their compulsion to leave the country even during the pandemic as they find it quite difficult to make their ends meet because of the lack of jobs in the country. “We don’t have jobs here, but we can’t let our children starve to death.”

The laborers had returned to their homeland from India during the onset of the pandemic to escape the infection of the disease that has already claimed the lives of 1,305 people in Nepal alone (as of Saturday afternoon). They were seen elated to have returned to their country alive. At the same time, they were also hopeful that they would get jobs in their own land as there are three tiers of government in the country.

However, the story turned out to be different. They rather had to fear dying of hunger without any source of income. Those who returned home in the hope of escaping the coronavirus pandemic are now desperate to make it to India again just to earn bread and butter.

Hark Bhul from Doti district, who was found at the transit point with his wife and three children, said that he was going to the Indian city of Punjab. “I came here four months ago. However, I couldn’t withstand scarcity and starvation,” said he, adding, “I have no other option but to leave the country again merely to fulfil the basic needs.”

Most of the laborers are leaving their motherland with their spouses and children.

“You can’t cheat your stomach. You have to feed yourself to survive,” said Rajita Chaudhary from Kailali’s Dhangadhi, who is leaving Nepal with her husband. They used to work in a poultry farm in India before the pandemic. They were forced to leave their jobs and return to Nepal with a plan of doing something in their own country. However, things didn't turn out as expected. “We couldn’t find any job to earn a living here. So, ultimately, we are returning to India,” Rajita’s husband, Santaram said.

Nepali migrant workers started returning to their country in March earlier this year as COVID-19 tightened its grip in most Indian parts. A long queue of Nepalis returning to their homeland was seen for several days though the government had suspended the cross-border movement since the country imposed the nationwide lockdown. This trend continued until July. However, without any job and source of income, they have again started moving to the southern neighbor starting mid-August on the eve of Nepal’s greatest festival, Dashain.

People have their own obligations. The crop-yields from their land hardly feed them for four months. They do not have other sources of income. They are compelled to make it to India to exchange their labor at a very low wage.

People from Sudur Paschim Province are making their exit from the country even via the transit points in Bardiya and Banke districts.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Mukesh Singh, spokesperson for the Provincial Police Office, said that more than 60,000 laborers have left for India from the province since mid-August.

As many as 1,500 to 2,000 people are moving to India from Sudur Paschim on a daily basis these days. Gauriphanta and Gaddachauki transit points reported the exit of 1,983 Nepalis on Friday and 1,675 on Saturday, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) at Kanchanpur District Police Office, Amar Bahadur Thapa Chhetri.

Despite the fact that India is one of the worst-affected countries by the pandemic with more than nine million infections and over 133,000 fatalities, Nepalis are desperately going there just to make a living.

According to the government records, more than 300,000 Nepali migrant workers had returned to Nepal since March.

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