Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Times of India - Indiatimes
New Delhi: For Sahan Khan and one lakh other truck drivers like him hailing from the Nuh-Mewat region of Haryana, COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic has turned out to be a 'curse', inflicting agony, hardships and unjustified social stigma.
Speaking about his ordeal, Khan, 35, says that he was in Bengaluru when the 21-day lockdown was imposed by the Centre on March 24.
"It all was a nightmare ... I was in Bengaluru when the lockdown was announced. Immediately about 100 of us who were in Bengaluru parked our trucks and crammed into one truck driving non-stop to Nuh," Khan told PTI over the phone from his village in Mewat in Haryana.
The Nuh-Mewat region is home to thousands of truck drivers and helpers whose livelihood depends on the transport sector. The region has emerged as hotspot for COVID-19.
As soon as Khan and thousands others reached their villages from different parts of the country, they were isolated in schools and government buildings for 14 days, he said.
"However, even after completing the isolation period, we are facing social stigma in villages as we are drivers and often being accused of bringing diseases with us," Khan narrated his plight, adding they and their families are passing days in acute poverty and facing pangs of hunger.
"I was employed for Rs 10,000 a month...this is the average salary we get but now we have nothing to eat ... we cannot go out ... we do not know what to do," he rues.
Echoing the plight, another driver, Hanif, said despite check-ups they are facing 'social-stigma' and are also being accused of promoting 'Tablighi Jamaat' activities.
Hanif said thousands of drivers from the Mewat region are also stranded at various places in the country and facing acute hardships, including shortage of food and water.
The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) President Kultaran Singh Atwal warned that the supply crisis in Delhi and National Capital Region was going to deepen as drivers here mostly belong to the Mewat region who are either confined in the region, a coronavirus hotspot, or stranded elsewhere.
"There are more than one lakh drivers from the Mewat region who are employed by transporters under AIMTC. A large number of them are trapped in the hotspot zone while others stranded at various places across the country are facing severe hardships," he said.
Atwal rued that despite claims of sanitisation and availability of food and water for stranded drivers, about three lakh are still stuck and no sanitisation facilities are available to them.
"The days are going to be extremely tough. Trucks have been abandoned at parking lots and other places. Many of these were carrying raw material for medicines on the way to places like Mumbai and Gujarat. Many have electronics and other goods," he said.
Atwal added that despite Home Ministry orders for ensuring smooth movement of goods, the message is yet to percolate in the states.
"We are facing many problems in the North East and states like Telangana," he said and demanded immediate intervention of the government to address the issues.
He urged the government for an immediate relief package for the transport sector saying about one crore truckers were facing livelihood issues.
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic and the resultant lockdown to contain its spread have led to the idling of more than 90% of about one crore truckers, the AIMTC said.
It said that about three lakh truckers with goods under non-essential categories are still stranded across India while goods worth about Rs 40,000 crore are lying in vehicles in the absence of unloading mechanism as well as reluctance on part of godowns, owners and others.
Nuh district in Haryana is one of the most impacted areas by COVID-19.
With Nuh emerging as a hotspot, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar last week appealed to Muslim religious leaders in Nuh-Mewat region to extend their cooperation in the fight against coronavirus.
Khattar also made a reference to Battle of Khanwa, in which a famous ruler from Mewat, Hasan Khan Mewati, had extended full support to Rajput ruler Rana Sanga in the fight against invading forces of the first Mughal ruler Babur.