Film captures workers' lockdown hardship

From cycling through forests and crossing the Ganges river to bypassing police barricades, a new documentary chronicles the journeys of India's millions of migrant workers as they walked, pedalled and hitchhiked home during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The film 1232 KMS, shot last April by director Vinod Kapri, follows a group of seven men travelling home to their villages after losing city jobs and highlights the hardship, discrimination and abuse they endured on the week-long journey.

An estimated 100 million migrants were among the worst hit by a strict lockdown between last March and June which led to an exodus from cities.

Many workers walked home, their adversity unfolding live on television and spurring efforts to help them.

Mr Ashish Kumar, one of the migrants in the film, said cycling the titular 1,232km from Ghaziabad - near New Delhi - to his home in Bihar had barely seemed possible.

"I laughed and cried when I saw the film - it brought back memories of those lockdown days, the difficulty in getting food, aid and the journey back home," the 45-year-old said.

"But then I also felt like a hero who had achieved something and that made me smile."

He returned to Ghaziabad to work in October after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Kapri said he met the group of seven while helping provide aid to migrant workers and decided to document their journey - following them by car as they travelled home.

The film shows the men wading through the Ganges and one of them fainting from exhaustion while cycling at night.

Another scene captures the phone calls home to reassure their relatives.

"I knew it was history in the making and there were moments while filming that were heart-breaking," he said, recalling how the migrants were often seen as "virus carriers" and denied aid.

"They also found kind people along the way, like the truck driver who gave them a ride knowing that he could get into trouble with the police or roadside eateries that fed them," Kapri said. "The journey unravelled both the good and the bad."

For Mr Kumar, who says in the documentary, "if we have to die, we will die on the road", the film is a testament to his spirit.

"It was not an easy decision. My family was against it but I knew that I would not survive in the city where the poor are not counted or seen," he said.

"In a village it is different... I wanted to be home in that safe space. And I made it."

The film - which premiered on Wednesday on streaming service Disney+ Hotstar - follows other tributes to India's migrant workers - which range from an exhibition by renowned artist Jatin Das to a themed marquee during last year's Durga Puja festivities.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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