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Indian film shows hardship and hope of migrants' lockdown journeys

by Anuradha Nagaraj | @anuranagaraj | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 22 March 2021 12:48 GMT

Migrant worker Ashok Kumar on his way home during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Picture courtesy Bhagirathi Films

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Indian documentary ‘1232 KMS’ follows seven migrant workers as they travel home during coronavirus lockdown

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, March 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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, pedaled and hitchhiked home during the coronavirus 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.

One of the migrants in the film, Ashish Kumar, said cycling the titular 1232 km (765 miles) from Ghaziabad - near New Delhi - to his home in eastern Bihar state 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 told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"But then I also felt like a hero who had achieved something and that made me smile", he said from Ghaziabad, having returned there to work in October after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Indian migrant workers walking home during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Picture courtesy Bhagirathi Films

The director, 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 added. "The journey unravelled both the good and the bad."

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

The film - which premieres on Mar. 24 on streaming service Disney+ Hotstar - follows other tributes to India's migrant workers from an exhibition by renowned artist Jatin Das to a themed marquee during last year's Durga Puja festivities.

Related stories:

India to honour pandemic-hit workers during annual parade 

Hunting for new jobs, India's migrant workers learn new skills online 

India plans database to help informal workers access state aid 

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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