His mother, who had been waiting anxiously for the youngest of her five children to return, went into shock following his death on May 26. Rukshan, in her 50s, has been bedridden since, slipping in and out of consciousness. Having buried their youngest, the family now struggles to foot her hospital bills.
Salman (centre) at Karnataka border.
It was on December 29 last year that Salman took a train to Bengaluru to earn a living. He found work, along with many others from Gonda, at a construction site in Banashankari and regularly sent money home. The family, which lives in a shack in Dhanepur village in Srinagar Babaganj of Gonda in east-central UP, had hoped their days in abject poverty were numbered.
On the dawn of May 12, Salman and 10 others embarked on their journey home by foot, unable to stay on any longer after the lockdown.
Dodging police in Karnataka and Andhra, wading across the Tungabhadra and spending a few days in quarantine, he finally made it home at 5pm on May 26 — exhausted, hungry and feet covered in blisters.
‘Walked by night to dodge cops’
Our contractor didn’t pay us for two months. We tried to get on a train, but after four days of long waits outside police stations, humiliation and caning, 10 of us decided to walk home and set out on May 12,” said Koushal Kumar, also a Gonda native, who worked with Salman.
“We reached the Karnataka border that day and were chased away by police,” recalled Kumar, who then guided the group through an alternative route along the railway line. Days of walking got the group to Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. They waded through the Tungabadra river on the AP-Telangana border and managed to enter Maharashtra. “Moving in the dark to escape police, we walked and hitched rides on trucks through Madhya Pradesh,” said Kumar on phone.
After a gruelling nine days on the road, the group reached Prayagraj on May 20 only to be chased away by UP police, forcing them to take to the railway tracks again. Hungry and with blistered feet, the men walked 26 hours straight, covering 200km to reach Lucknow where they no longer had the energy to dodge cops.
“They were taken to quarantine at a school in Srinagar Babaganj for a few days and finally, Koushal dropped Salman home around 5pm on May 26. My mother and I were overjoyed to see him. His foot was badly cut, and he was frail,” said Riyaz Khan.
After tears and hugs, Salman stepped into a sugarcane field nearby to wash up. “We found him dead an hour later. Our mother went into shock and had to be hospitalised,” said Riyaz. Salman’s last rites took place the same night, with Koushal putting together their little savings. He is now running around to pay the grieving mother’s medical bills despite being ill himself. “I brought him back home safely and then he leaves us like this,” cried Kumar.