Since March 25, 00:00 Hours, India has been under a nationwide lockdown, restricting the movement of 1.3 billion people as prevention against the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though I stay in Bengaluru, I keep tracking local news as developments emerge from my hometown, Kolkata.
On April 10, 2020, I came across an interesting story by my friend and journalist - Soumyajit Chakraborty, focusing on a local Gurudawara (Sikh temple) that was helping numerous truck-drivers stuck on National Highway 6.
I itched to shoot this immediately. Still, there was no way I could. I was in Bangalore.
Social distancing must neither stop nor block us from telling essential stories during the time of COVID-19. We must find and work on newer, more interesting ideas and formats.
I wondered endlessly if I could do something other than following the traditional path.
Instead of photographing the truck drivers and their lives myself, as they unfolded under lockdown, I decided to guide a few of them. I spoke with numerous truck drivers over the phone/ WhatsApp video calls. Finally, I could find a few who were willing to photograph their lives using phone cameras.
After that, through subtle guidance, they started shooting their everyday lives under the lockdown. Often, I would speak to them many times a day explaining what was going right and vice versa.
Here's how it all turned out.
There are between 200 to 300 trucks stranded on National Highway - 6 at Uluberia Parking area near Kolkata, India. The immediate announcement of the lockdown on March 24 by the Prime Minister brought almost the majority of trucking in India to a grinding halt. Drivers with goods were stranded on highways across the country. Reports suggested that ground transportation of goods had come down by as much as 90 per cent.
At Uluberia, most are container trucks which are used for large volume goods in industrial transport. On average, most drivers drive continuously for 5-6 days to reach their destination, often stopping at highway eateries (dhabas) for food breaks. Due to the stringent measures and amid an almost curfew-like lockdown, those are shut as well. Volunteers from the nearby Alampur Gurudwara like many others around the country are extending their help. A group of volunteers load water and food and serve the drivers at midday.
All other meals, they must fend for themselves. Drivers that this reporter spoke with collect money and walk about 3 kms one way to procure groceries and vegetables from a village. Drivers are choosing to cook in small groups of 3-4 in the outdoors. Social distancing must be maintained, but it’s not easy. Drivers use a public bathroom just off of where they are parked and cook and eat together.
Most drivers have suffered huge losses during the lockdown. In this last one month alone (March 25 to April 19) - they could have made at least 3 trips. For them, no work means no payday.
Recently, there was a spate of robberies when some of their belongings were stolen. They now take guard duty shifts during the night.
Drivers stuck at Uluberia miss home, some with smartphones speak to their families on video calls. Others must wait longer. Home is yet a distant dream, they must first deliver their goods.
Reporting and Text – Sayan Hazra
Images – Truck Drivers stranded at Uluberia Parking, West Bengal, India Produced for StoriesAsia by Vivek Singh