After India imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown on Tuesday to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the plywood factory near Uttar Pradesh’s state capital Lucknow where Surendra Pandey works was forced to shut down.
On Thursday morning, with no way of earning a living, the 28-year-old labourer set off on a 110-kilometre (68-mile) walk back to his home village.
“I tried catching a bus or truck yesterday, but there is no transport available on the road, so I decided to walk,” he told Reuters, some 30 km (19 miles) into his journey.
“There is no food available on the roads but thankfully a few citizens offer us food, biscuits and water. It’s better to be home than to be here in the city without food and water.”
Officials say the shutdown of all but essential services is necessary to beat coronavirus in the densely populated country of 1.3 billion people, with health infrastructure that can ill-afford a widespread outbreak. India has so far reported more than 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 13 deaths.
India’s government announced on Thursday a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security.
But for India’s estimated 120 million migrant labourers, the shutdown is a crisis, as wages dry up and many cannot afford the rent or even food in the cities.
Across India, more than a dozen labourers Reuters spoke to returning home said they had been left with little choice other than to attempt to walk back to their home villages after work – and public transport – vanished.