With a blind wife and a 2-year-old boy, the 50-year-old man begins the longest walk of his life

PANAJI: Vastaram Maske had his hands full as he headed for the Patradevi border on Friday. Walking painfully down the road in the scorching sun, he guided his blind wife with one hand and held their two-year-old baby, Kushi, in the other. For the 50-year-old man, Patradevi would only be the first of many obstacles: his family's destination was his home in Aurangabad, almost 600 km away.

I came to Goa last December to work on construction sites, but I can no longer afford to live here, he said. Thus, on Friday morning, he left Dhargalim, in Pernem, for perhaps the longest walk of his life. We are going home, he said, not knowing if he and his family would ever arrive.

Maske is one of thousands of migrant workers who walk the roads of Goa towards the state borders, his first checkpoint in a long travel . Muchos trataron desesperadamente de obtener un permiso de travel pero fracasaron. Sin ninguna opción, partieron de todos modos, con la esperanza de cruzar ilegalmente la frontera.

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But even for those who succeeded, there was bad news. TOI encountered several hungry, angry and frustrated men who walked for miles in the sun to cross internal roads, only to have the neighboring state police thwart their attempt and send them back to Goa.

On the same Friday afternoon, the Patradevi checkpoint saw about 500 workers, most from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, sent back to Goa after being detained by the Maharashtra police.

At the border, they waited among vehicles and stood in groups. Typically, they send us about 100 workers a day after crossing the border illegally, a police officer at the checkpoint said. Today's number is quite high.

Even for the police, the caravan of misery takes its toll. A police officer recalled how a few nights ago, he saw some migrant workers sleeping along the road, hungry. He also went hungry that night. I was on duty here, but I couldn't eat my tiffin after seeing them hungry, he said.

In theory, workers caught crossing the border illegally are detained and sent to the nearest camp. However, in practice, it takes time to sort out the logistics. A vehicle must be fixed, a police officer said. We are sending some sand mining workers to the nearest city and we will summon their contractors.

The policeman, like many of his colleagues, was furious that the contractors had abandoned their workers in their hour of need. “The least they can do is to help them with the registration process and ensure their travel to their home states,” one said. “With so many of them, we are helpless.”

The specter of impotence permeates the Patradevi checkpoint. Many workers detained here have already walked for hours.

We started walking home out of obligation, not choice, said UP's Motee Singh, one of more than 100 workers who walked from South Goa. We have registered four or five times, but there has been no response from the government.

Another just wanted to get home. We don't have money to pay the rent, he said. “(If we get home), at least we will be with our families, even if we don't have money. I want to see my family.

His last meal was Thursday night. On Friday, when temperatures spiked, none of them had even a sip of water since morning. When Alam Trust, a charity, appeared with bottles of water, there was a fight to get the last ones.

We came with only a hundred packages (of food) and bottles of water, said the main person in charge of the distribution. We had no idea that there would be so many people here.

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