Five Indian migrant workers died when the mango-laden truck they hid in to evade the virus lockdown overturned, police said Sunday, adding to a rising death toll among the country’s poorest labourers.
The victims were among the millions of migrant workers, mostly from rural villages, heading home by any means possible after many lost their jobs under the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown.
As India’s interstate train and bus systems closed down and state borders shuttered in late March, many headed home by walking or cycling, often for days under blistering heat.
Others hid in cargo trucks and concrete mixers to avoid the police, while those who could not escape were stuck in crowded city shelters.
The latest victims were hiding between hundreds of mango crates when the truck fell sideways late Saturday on a highway in Madhya Pradesh’s Narshingpur district, crushing those onboard.
“The workers were clandestinely travelling to their homes in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district when the accident took place,” district police officer Rajesh Tiwari told AFP.
Five of them died and another 15, including the truck’s driver and helpers, were taken to hospital for treatment.
The truck was heading from the southern city of Hyderabad to Agra city in the north.
Their deaths came two days after 16 migrant workers on their way home to central India died when they were run over by a goods train in western Maharashtra state as they slept on the track.
Hours later, a migrant worker couple was killed in northern Lucknow city after a vehicle hit their bicycle as they peddled home to Chhattisgarh some 800 kilometres (497 miles) away.
Their two children survived, but were hospitalized.
In some cities police have clashed with migrants clamouring to be allowed to return home to their families.
According to a study by community data research platform DataMeet, 74 migrants have been killed in road and train accidents as they try to return home during the lockdown, while 26 migrants have died due to exhaustion from walking or cycling.
Another study by non-profit SaveLIFE Foundation said 42 migrant labourers lost their lives in road accidents during the lockdown.
The government last week started special train services for the migrants to help them return home.