Name: Sunil Prasad
Hometown: Jogapatti, Bihar
Occupation: Construction Worker
Returned from: Gurgaon, Haryana
Sunil Prasad left Jogapatti, Bihar at the age of 22. He learned the skill of embroidery in Ludhiana that year. In 2003, Sunil moved back home with his wife and children. To feed a family of 7, he recently moved to Gurugram to work at a construction site. A few days after the lockdown, the odds of work resuming were further diminished, and their attempt to lease a vehicle from Gurgaon failed. Consequently, Sunil and nine others from his village decided to begin their journey afoot and hope for free-passage on the way.
Interviewer: What impact has the Covid-19 virus had on your life?
Sunil Prasad: I have a wife and six kids. The eldest daughter is now married, one is in high school, and two boys are in grade 6th and 8th.
I am the sole earner. In this circumstance, I earn Rs. 200 a day from farming, construction, and other labor work I can get. The days of no work elapse. The monthly earnings are not hardened. The lockdown destabilised the stance I had spent years on. It was difficult in Gurugram. Only 200 of the workers remained in my neighbourhood.
Interviewer: What was your first response to the lockdown?
Sunil Prasad: On 17th March, I first heard about the virus spreading vastly in China. The news anchor on the television triggered the thought: sooner or later the disease will surround us. To avoid human contact, I isolated myself and purchased masks along with hand sanitiser. The announcement of the lockdown being implemented did not affect me. I was convinced it would not last over a few days. I waited for a government resolution. Delhi and Gurguram were rising hotspots at the time. I and nine others from home were prepared to lease a vehicle home. However, when that failed, we began our journey on foot.
Interviewer: Describe your journey back to Bihar.
Sunil Prasad: We left in the afternoon on the 17th. Merely 5 k.m. after — the four of were offered a 150 k.m. ride. There was not ample space for all of us. There were camps providing food, water, and shelter. We requested the drivers at the camp to drive us 100 to 250 k.m. as suitable for their route for a certain amount. We conveniently reached Gorakhpur and continued. A policeman at the check-posts in Uttar-Pradesh was able to convince another vehicle for a ride. At the drop-off point, there was no movement of vehicles, leading us to continue on foot. A few minutes later, another commercial vehicle agreed to drive us to Kushinagar. Since the check-posts were demanding certificates declaring us fit, we got checked at a local hospital and deemed fit. Once again, we walked. Once again, 3 k.m. later — another commercial vehicle dropped us till Basi, and further a different carrier till the outskirts of my village. Panchayat organised transportation from the school.
Before we reached the village, there was no official quarantine centre. The ‘Sarpanch’ and BDO argued over potential concerns of quarantining without any basic facilities. For us, there was no alternative. I was aware of the risk and did not wish to contaminate my family or neighbours. I survived the first week without basic facilities. My family lived nearby; they supplied food, sheets, and other essential items. The ‘Sarpanch’ and BDO too received funding to request doctors, a first-aid kit for each of us, and three meals a day(dal, rice, and vegetable). It was God’s blessing supporting me through those fourteen days. There were twenty-five of us at the centre. The other quarantine centre was holding above 200 individuals. I did not wish to isolate myself there since I was trying to protect myself, not infect myself.
During our walk, I interacted with others on the road. While maintaining 1 meter distance, we exchanged information about the quarantining procedure. It was just a conversation, neither of us was in a position to help the other. My organisation provided regular check-ups along with advisory by doctors. I was well informed.
Interviewer: How has the Covid-19 virus impacted your life? Will you resume your work in Gurugram if the lockdown is lifted?
Sunil Prasad: The monthly house expenditure costs minimum of Rs. 7,000. Further, there are recurring medical expenses. There is no direction to look at. I do not have funds to start a new business, nor do I have the opportunity to earn. My only asset is the piece of land I got after my father passed away. The land only allows growing wheat with an unpredictable outcome. We live in a tin house and own one more nearby.
I had to start working early because my father was ill. His wheat farm did not earn enough to provide for all. I began working after graduating from high school. I was married in 1997 and left the same year in search of a job.
The children are bearing the extent of the crisis too. There is no definite form of education for them anymore. For years, I was able to provide education at an English-medium school. My son flourished and was exceptional in academics and dancing. His current government school does not have teachers or other facilities. I am not sure what the future holds, I pray for that. There is no current alternative that allows me to provide education to my children. At the moment, putting ample food on the table is a struggle. There are no third expenses.
I have decided not to leave home this time. This virus is lethal; I will not be leaving my family alone to deal with it. The children are young, and my daughter relies on me to escort her during evening hours. I am hoping for a state-sponsored loan to open a new shop. If other opportunities are available, I am open to those too. We have to continue living, financial aid will allow us to restart our lives.