Kolkata: On Saturday, 22-two-year-old Asif Iqbal Mondal hung himself from a mango tree in Kodanad, in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. He had run out of food and money several days before, and desperately wanted to return home. Not once but twice he had managed to book train tickets from Kerala to his hometown in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district – but both times, it had been cancelled.
Asif’s father, Jabed Mondal, was beside himself while speaking to The Wire. “Everything is finished,” he said and broke down. Anwarul, Asif’s cousin, took the phone and said, “He can’t talk anymore. This is the situation at home since the news came. His mother has fainted several times.”
Anwar Hussain, Asif’s youngest sibling, said that he went to see Asif on Thursday. “He was scared and restless, just wanted to go home. He thought he will never be able to go back home as his train tickets were cancelled twice. Asif said if he gets back to the village, he will never leave again,” Anwar said.
Late at night on Saturday, Anwar and another friend started their trip back to Murshidabad with Asif’s body, in an ambulance. “We never thought we would go home this way,” Anwar said. After travelling over 2,900 km for over 48 hours, at around 6:30 am on Tuesday, a white, air-conditioned ambulance reached Shiropara village in Domkal block of Murshidabad. By 8:30 am, his body had been buried in a local graveyard.
“He couldn’t come back home in a train, now his dead body has come in an ambulance. It cost us Rs 1.3 lakh. We gave the driver Rs 1 lakh, Rs 30,000 is still due. We requested the driver to stay here tonight and leave tomorrow, by that time we will arrange the money,” Anwarul said.
Asif’s uncle, Asarul Biswas, said, “Their family is extremely poor. His father works as a labourer in others farms. Asif was the eldest brother. It’s the villagers who came forward and donated money to bring his body back home.”
Asif’s father, Jabed, works as a farm labourer in Murshidabad and receives 25% of the total production as wages. This, the family says, is just enough to live on. “Saving money is a distant luxury for us,” said Anwar.
Six months ago, Asif and Anwar headed to Kerala in the hope of a better future. Asif started working in a brick kiln in Kodanad, for a daily wage of Rs 450. Anwar joined a floor tile making factory, about 15 km away, for a daily wage of Rs 600.
“Asif was about to come home but the lockdown was put in place. Since March 23, the brick kiln has been closed and workers are not getting any money. Asif was depressed. He even planned to walk back home. These 47 days of uncertainty killed him,” said Asarul.
The family has not received any help from the state government yet. No political party or NGO helped them bring back Asif’s remains. Anwarul confirmed that after the news came on Saturday morning, Domkal municipality chairman Rafikul Islam visited the family and said he will arrange for some money. Till Tuesday afternoon, no monetary help had reached the family.
“He tried to come back home by train but he failed both times. Now we have spent lakhs to bring him back. Had the government made a train available earlier, Asif would have been home alive,” said Anwarul.
Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a social advocacy group, strongly condemned this incident and demanded an explanation from the government.
“Poor migrant workers are getting killed solely because of the callousness of the Central government. For a long time we have been asking for a proper plan for returning and rehabilitating migrant workers, but the government seems to be too busy taking care of rich people. We also demand economic compensation for his family. We thank the local administration for extending their help,” said Tanmoy Ghosh, secretary of the Bangla Sanskriti Mancha.
Several calls to the Trinamool Congress MP from Murshidabad, Abu Taher Khan, went unanswered.
Himadri Ghosh is a Kolkata-based journalist.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also appear them to the nearest hospital.