“There’s no other option but to return,” said Chitrasen in January 2021, when asked if he would migrate back to the city. The previous year’s pandemic-induced lockdown had left migrant workers stranded in cities and stripped of all their savings. An entire year later, as the second wave of COVID-19 engulfs India, many migrant workers find themselves confronted by a similar situation.
Chitrasen Sethi lives in the village of Paramanandapur, Ganjam district, Odisha. Every year he spends more than six months outside his home state, working in Surat’s cotton mills. When the 2020 lockdown was announced, he had already returned home and was able to stay safe with his family.
However, the respite that came with being in his village wore off soon due to limited livelihood opportunities in Paramanandapur. He emphasised that in order to provide for his family, he had no choice but to return to Surat as soon as COVID-19 restrictions eased. By February 2021, he was back in Surat, working in the mill with unchanged working conditions.