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The long way home from Kalaburagi to Kerala

It was on the night of 12th March, that I was shocked by the news of a septuagenarian’s death due to COVID 19 in the Kalaburagi district of Karnataka. It was the first COVID 19 death in India and the local government immediately implemented a curfew in the district.

We, the students and teachers, thought of leaving for our home state, Kerala, after the curfew. But we really got stuck when the Government of India implemented the lockdown. We waited with the hope of relaxation after April 14. Days became nights and nights turned to days. We tasted poverty at times and it was too bitter to taste. The scorching heat doodled her creativity on our entire body, attacking us from dawn to dusk. The financial crisis too came like a flood and accelerated the havoc.

When the Government of India implemented lockdown 3.0, we gave up hope. The Government of Kerala had come up with draconian rules and systems regarding entry to the state. By then, it was nearly 60 days of isolated life.

During those days of hopelessness, we approached Fr Saji George SDB, Director, Don Bosco PYaR, Kalaburagi, and the designated officer of the Kalaburagi Non-Residential Keralites Association (NORKA Roots), to help us out in this regard. He assured us of all the possible assistance on behalf of Don Bosco. He and Fr Jaimon SDB contacted BREADS Bangalore and the Malayali Samajams in Bangalore and Kalaburagi. The Don Bosco fathers sustained our mental health by feeding us with hope and solace.

On 5 May, the Fathers contacted Sri Dattatraya C Patil Revoor, MLA, Kalaburagi South Zone. He was agile in taking up our issues before the District Administration and Fr Saji and our representatives approached the District Collector of Kalaburagi that night. The DC and the ADC took up our case and intimated the DC of the Karnataka Transport Corporation to do the needful immediately. The next morning, we met the DC of NEKRTC, who agreed to help us by allotting a vehicle on payment. We were ready to pay as we didn’t want to and could not stay any longer in Kalaburagi. They allotted us a vehicle the very next day after obtaining an interstate special permit from RTO, Kalaburagi. We were asked to pay INR 67000 at first and later they asked us to pay another INR 22350 according to the distance. Fr Joy Nedumparambil, Executive Director, BREADS assured us of financial support. Meanwhile, we registered with the Seva Sindhu portal (Govt. of Karnataka) to leave the state and NORKA Roots (Govt. of Kerala) to enter the state. Though we all had applied for a pass through the COVID 19 Jagratha portal, only some of us received confirmed permission to enter Kerala on 9 May. Some people’s application status for 9 May was ‘waiting for taking action’. As the journey would take a day or more and some passes were allotted for 9 May, we started the journey. We couldn’t wait any longer as the permit and vehicle was ready on payment and the fluctuation in laws and rules triggered our vexation.

We packed up, vacated our hostel rooms and started the journey on 8 May. The MLA, DC, ADC, NEKRTC representatives, Fr Saji George, Fr Jaimon, and the Don Bosco PYaR staff came to see us off at the District Collector’s office. Our team consisting of 16 females (a 3- year old child too) and 8 males, from different parts of Kerala, left for our home state by 9.30 pm with a bundle of hope. Two drivers of NEKRTC, Mr Gangappa Poojari and Mr Abdul Gafar were with us. The night in the bus was so nice because it was not diesel that moved the vehicle, rather it was our hope and our feelings. The long journey was across many check posts and clearances at different levels in Karnataka, and we reached Mysore by the next noon. We were tired but enthusiastic to reach home. We breakfasted on biscuits and Don Bosco Mysore was kind enough to provide us food packets. Fr Joy Ullattil (Principal, Don Bosco College, Batheri) approached the district administration of Wayanad in the morning to allow us to enter Kerala through Muthanga check post, but our request was denied. We were really lost but had no other way, so we decided to move ahead. All 24 of us tried to contact all the possible people to help us out. By noon, we received the contact number of Mr Oommen Chandy, the former Chief Minister of Kerala. We got a good response from his office and could talk to him. He promised to do the needful from his part. At that moment we felt so positive and vibrant as we were sorely troubled before that. We reached the Maddur check post of Karnataka at 5.30 pm on 9 May after 18 hours of a long, tiring journey. The officers of Kerala there stopped our journey since they could not allow us to enter Kerala without a proper pass. They told us to return to Kalaburagi at first. But it was impossible as we had nothing left there. If our own state was shutting its gates before us, whom should we ask for help? Where else do we belong? Why doesn’t our own home state show us concern? We drenched our hearts meditating on all these questions. We were languishing. The officers told us to stay in Gundelpet police station that night but it was not possible for us.

 We tried to contact Mr Oommen Chandy again and he told us that he was trying to do what was possible. He spoke like our own family member and that approach kept us from panic that night. He contacted our respective District Collectors, and requested the Collector of Wayanad to help us. Mr P K Kunjootty from an NGO in Gundelpet came and spoke to us, and provided us food and water. We contacted M C Josephine, the Chairperson of Kerala Women’s Commission. She showed a rich concern for us and assured us of her help. It was so consoling to speak to her. We spoke with Kanthapuram Abubakker Musliar (General Secretary, Markaz institutions), who assured us help from his side. We started contacting our respective DC offices and spoke with them. The district administration of Ernakulam issued passes with immediate effect at the request of Gracy teacher, Angamaly Municipal Council. We were informed by officers at the check post that the DC, Wayanad would come to meet us. In the meantime, Mr. Ida Martin, SP, Kalaburagi was informed about the problem and he immediately called his counterpart at Chamrajnagar and did whatever he could to make us reach the Kerala border. Time was flying and by 9 pm Maddur check post opened before us and we resumed our journey. When we reached the next check post at the starting of Noolpuzha gram panchayat, the Kerala police blocked us and told us to return. We tried to speak to them but they were not ready to listen to us. They said it’s was the order of the DC and forced us to return. We approached them again and nearly 15 of them stood in a row and spoke harshly. We couldn’t make any calls as there was no range on the phones and most of them had run out of charge. At last, we were forced to return to the Maddur check post.

It was a journey that none of us would ever forget. We were returning and the bus stopped after some kilometers. The bus lights were off. It was pitch dark. The driver was in panic. There was an elephant on the road. The other driver too got tensed as it was the first time they were facing something like that. Nobody knew what to do. As most of the group were ladies, it was a very tense time. We waited in dead silence and thought that the elephant would go soon. But it didn’t happen. After some time, someone said it had gone, but when the driver switched on the lights, we saw the elephant was really approaching us. It could reach us in seconds! The driver started reversing the vehicle with directions from the other man at the back door. He could not hear because of our screaming and the vehicle felt like it was skidding. It was the moment we met death face to face. We thought our lives would end there in the midst of the thick forest with no way of contacting a single person for help. We cried aloud from our hearts. The drivers felt so bad that they came with us risking their lives. After some time we decided to go ahead as we couldn’t see the elephant. The driver drove very fast to the Maddur check post again. The Karnataka officers at the check post treated us with care and allowed us to charge our mobile phones and gave us some eatables. By 11 pm M C Josephine called and promised her help. It refreshed us. Our families and relatives were tensed about us and contacted all the possible people to help us out. Dean Kuriakose MP, Benny Behanan MP, Jose Thettayil (ex-minister), M K Muneer (ex-minister), K T Jaleel (Minister, Local Administration), C P Cheriya Muhammed MLA (Pattambi), C K Saseedran MLA( Kalpatta), Veena George MLA (Pathanamthitta), T.V Ibrahim, MLA (Kondotty), Mr Jasheer Pallivayal and Mr Nikhil Damodar from KSU, Kerala state administration, Mr Ajas and Mr Mobin from KSU, Mar Ivanios College, SYS Help Desk, Sultan Batheri and KMCC helped us with their words and deeds. It meant a lot in such a situation of chaos and fretting. By late night, we had spoken with Mr Riju IAS. He said he had spoken to the DCs of Karnataka as well as Kerala (Wayanad) regarding our issues and he assured us that we would enter the state the next morning. We spent a sleepless night in the bus. We contacted Mr Riju IAS and Mr Oommen Chandy very early in the morning and  as per their words, we started again to Kerala. We waited another 5 hours at the next check post at the starting of Noolpuzha gram panchayat. We spoke with the Revenue officers and later with the Tahsildar. The Tahsildar was very cooperative and he assured us that he would take up our issue. As it was taking such a long time, we spoke to Veena George MLA. She very patiently  listened to our problems and consoled us wonderfully. She accelerated the process very well. We spoke to Mr Oommen Chandy and he spoke to the DC of Wayanad again. We appreciate the awesome and astounding leader in him. The Revenue and check post officers enquired about our issues and did their best to help us. We got calls from our respective DC offices and they tried to keep us encouraged.

We were managing with biscuits and snacks, but were provided breakfast by the SYS Help Desk later. Our drivers were getting desperate and becoming uncooperative, threatening to return to Kalaburagi if nothing happened in an hour or two. After a short while we were called for personal checking before crossing the check post. The check post opened before us. Yes! We were entering our state. We had to wait a night and more to enter our own home state. Though we didn’t have proper food and shelter for 3 consecutive days, God had  maintained us well through His Divine Providence. We never experienced such joy before. The Tahsildar was waiting at the check post. He said that temporary passes had been issued for all of us acknowledging our special situation based on the requests from all the respective political leaders and officers. By then, our Domestic Return passes also were ready and downloaded on our phones thanks to the immense help of Veena George MLA. We were peaceful.

Ente Keralam! Ente Nadu!!! The moment we saw Malayalam script on the shops our minds danced and relaxed. We shouted in joy from the depths of our hearts. We all underwent corona screening tests and were advised to undergo home quarantine. We bought meal packets and ate. It was the best and yummiest food we ever had. Three people of our team were from Kannur district and they left for their houses from there. We got down one by one and the remaining of us reached Vytila, Ernakulam. We thanked the drivers and started to our own houses in the arranged vehicles.

Glory to God! We would like to thank Him, the Almighty who kept us abundantly hale and robust on the journey. We thank the reverend Fathers and the Don Bosco family for so much love. They always stood with us as our pillar. We appreciate all the wonderful leaders and officers who had love for humanity and were bountiful in showing it. We thank our dear and near ones who had brought us back through their prayers and help. A special word of appreciation and thanks to our bus leaders Dr. Richu, Ms. Jisha John and Ahammed Shuhaib who kept us united and strong.

Thanking all the fellow travelers who have become our family, and praying for those people who are still stranded. May God help them!

Ms. Jisha John

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