Amritsar: After being stuck for the last two months during the lockdown in Punjab, 95 people originally from Nagaland undertook the journey of 2,300 kilometres to the state by bus.
The journey, which commenced on May 26, was an initiative of the Nagaland government which paid the Rs 7 lakh needed to facilitate the bus ride and also arranged for dry ration and masks for the passengers.
The decision to facilitate their travel by bus came after the rescue of nine Nagaland girls, who had been locked by their landlord as they were not able to pay their monthly rent in Amritsar. It was only after the girls spoke to a local pastor and the Naga Students Union Punjab (NSUP), that the Amritsar Police intervened and rescued them on May 18.
Pastor Tiakum Ozukum from the Christian Fellowship Jalandhar and Imsanger Jamir, the president of NSUP, spoke to the Nagaland nodal officer for residents of Nagaland outside the state, Shahnavas C. and Amritsar deputy commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon to arrange to send Naga students and workers back home.
Before leaving for Nagaland, the girls held up placards with messages that read “Thank You Deputy Commissioner Amritsar” and “Thank You Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon”.
Pastor Tiakum Ozukum said that there were 95 students and workers from Nagaland stuck in Amritsar, Jalandhar and Phagwara, who wanted to go home. “After the lockdown was relaxed, they were waiting for train or air travel facilities but when no option was left, they hired three private buses at Rs 2 lakh each from Amritsar,” Ozukum said.
Ozukum said that the Nagaland government had also offered one-time assistance of Rs 10,000 to the Naga people stuck in different parts of the country but most of them preferred to come home instead. “There are people from Nagaland, who decided to stay put in Punjab and availed the option,” he added.
NSUP president Imsanger Jamir said that most of the people had lost their jobs in the lockdown which had lead to considerable financial distress. “The lockdown was announced all of a sudden, leaving the common man with no time to even plan something. It was only after we came across Nagaland bureaucrat Shahnavas C. that our problem was sorted out.”
Jamir also said that the nine Naga girls had not only lost their jobs, but even their salaries had been withheld. “The girls were not able to pay the rent, and their landlord locked them inside the house. We are glad that our pastor and Bishop Dr Pradeep Samantaroy from the Church of North India (CNI) gave shelter to the girls at the Alexandra School guest house Amritsar.”
The Nagaland residents crossed Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal to finally reach the state. Yangro Humtsoe, a student hailing from Dimapur, who was on board the bus said, “Travel expenses of Rs 6,000 each was borne by the Nagaland government. An additional Rs 2,000 was collected by the NSUP as security. They will reimburse it after we reach our destination. Had our state government not assisted us, it would have been impossible for us to go back home.”
Shahnavas C., who is also the Principal Director School Education in the state, said that following the request from the NSUP president, he took the matter up with the chief minister’s office, who released Rs 7 lakh from the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
He said that they had assisted people from Nagaland in Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Lucknow where Shramik Special trains. are plying. “But, as the number of residents who wanted to come back from Punjab was fewer than 100, it was not possible to demand a special train to Nagaland. We are constantly in touch with the passengers and waiting for their arrival,” he said.
Earlier, the Amritsar deputy commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon said that apart from providing e-passes and screening people, his main concern was the safety of those nine girls. “It was more of a moral duty to ensure that the girls were safe and reached home,” he said.
The expense is a massive one. Dhillon said, “The drivers would be covering a total distance of 4,600 kilometres and coming back to Punjab without any passenger. It is an arduous journey in unchartered territory and these are unusual times due to COVID-19, hence the expenses are bound to be high.”
Kusum Arora is an independent journalist.