POLEM: Less than a year ago, Vinod Shamanappa Katagi arrived in Goa from a hamlet near Gadag in Karnataka, hoping for higher wages and a better life. By the afternoon of May 22 (Friday), things had changed drastically for Vinod, who found himself squatting under a lone tree along a deserted highway in Canacona with eight others, in the scorching summer heat.
Without food or water, Vinod and seven others were sent to the spot, seven kilometres from the Polem checkpost by Goa officials, who said it was to avoid crowding.
Neither Karnataka officials nor Goa officials are providing us information about the procedure to cross over. We can neither eat nor drink, neither live nor die,” said Vinod, who worked as a daily wage labourer in Calangute during this time in Goa.
“They told us that if any bus from Karnataka comes to take us, this is the pick-up point. But we are out of food and water and if we have to make an enquiry, we will have to cover seven kilometres by foot again to the check-post.
Among the group of eight is a fellow labourer Mahantappa Komaragopadda with his family of four, including children, and a couple Mala Solanki and Giriyappa Patted, who had arrived as tourists.
“We had arrived from Hubballi as tourists on March 19 and within days there was a lockdown . After spending more than a month at different lodges, we decided we could not live like this any longer and caught whatever public buses were available to get from Calangute to Margao,” said Mala.
It is on this bus that the couple met the labourers from Karnataka and hired a shared taxi to Polem.
Even while in distress himself, Vinod doesn’t fail to point to the two other families stuck at the Polem check-post with five children below the age of four.
“We were working at a construction site in Valpoi and heard there is a bus available from Polem to Karnataka at 7am, so we hitched a ride on trucks and other goods vehicles to get here. We thought we would be leaving at 7am from Goa so did not get anything to eat with us for the children. They are only sipping on water since we left Valpoi on Friday morning,” said Saroja Lamani, a young mother of two, as her husband has queued up with at least 100 other workers to get a permit to enter Karnataka.
“If anyone is left stranded here, it is because the Karnataka government has not accepted their application. It is our job to make it clear to them that if they cross over with no bus to take them to the nearest township, they may be stuck on the Karnataka side of the border in an uninhabited area,” said a Goa official.
At twilight, Vinod and the group of seven others began their trek to the Polem check-post again, with no sign of any bus.
“There is no place to buy food or water around. But we hope to get back somehow to our village where we have land to grow something we can eat. Here, we do not how long it will be before we get regular jobs again. For now, we will spend the night at the Polem check-post, where at least there will be some safety for the women and children,” said Vinod.
By Saturday afternoon, a starving and frustrated Vinod had set out to return to Calangute, with no help forthcoming. He took off by foot hoping to hitch a ride. Mahantappa, his wife Shantavva and children Nagraj (12) and daughter Akshata (10) were issued permits to cross over with no buses.
Mahantappa said that his family refused to enter Karnataka for fear of being stuck in a forested area with no transport home.
“We are being asked to choose either to cross the border with no guarantee of transport or to shift to the shelter for in Margao. Officials have told us we wont be allowed to hang around much longer. My daughter has been crying of hunger and fear,” said Mahantappa.