Police tear-gas migrant workers in Surat

Ahmedabad: Surat police lobbed 30 tear gas shells to disperse a mob of migrant workers who were pelting stones to defy a three-week lockdown against the coronavirus that has left hundreds of thousands of poor without jobs and hungry, authorities said on Monday.

Many have been walking for days, some with families including small children, on deserted highways with little access to food or water.

Around 500 workers came on to the streets confronting the police, which charged at them with lathis to drive them back to Pandesara, where they live in colonies. Mob then sought to stone-pelting, where three police vehicles were damaged by the angry crowd. The police later arrested 96 people on charges of rioting. All the arrested are textile labourers who wanted to go back to their native places in UP, Bihar, and so on.

“The police tried to convince them that it is not possible since buses or trains are not available…However, the workers refused to budge, and started pelting stones at police,” Surat deputy commissioner of police Vidhi Chaudhari said.

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Lockdown triggered humanitarian crisis

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered lock down till April 15, saying that such self-isolation was the only hope to stop the viral pandemic.

But the vast shutdown has triggered a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands of poor migrant labourers employed in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai seeking to head to their homes in the countryside on foot after losing their jobs.

Due to the lockdown and shortage of food in the textile labour colonies in Surat city, thousands of workers left their rented rooms and started walking to the reach national highway around 20 km away.

These labourers walking in groups were stopped by the police near Sachin and told that there were no other transport services running on the highways. However, the workers, mostly working in the powerloom factories and dyeing and printing units in Surat city, insisted on continuing their journey.

When the police disallowed them, some of the workers threw stones at the police personnel. As the situation worsened, more force was called in. Soon a lathi-charge ensued and the police succeeded in driving the group back to Pandesara. Three police vehicles, including that of Deputy Commissioner of Police Vidhi Chaudhary, were damaged in the stone-pelting, though no cops were injured.

On Monday afternoon, all the arrested workers were produced before JMFC court of D L Thakor and later released on bail. DCP Chaudhari said the situation is under control now. “Our police team had done their best to convince them, but they had only one thing in mind: to walk back home.”

India has registered 1,071 cases of the coronavirus, of whom 29 have died, the health ministry said on Monday.