Across India, there are men and women with swollen feet. At a quarantine centre in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district, there is 17-year-old Baliram Kumar, who had walked from Bangalore over 25 days.
“My feet are cut and scabbed,” he said on the phone, a day after he reached his village. “I had shoes but what good are shoes after a while? I am so tired. My whole body is aching.”
As men and women set out, children in their arms, belongings balanced on their head, comparisons were drawn to the migrant caravans that crossed borders during Partition. Those journeys, made at the violent birth of two countries, were fraught with other terrors. But as images of walking migrants fill news feeds and TV screens, it grows clear that this, too, is a moment that belongs in history books. It belongs with the great journeys triggered by war, famine or natural calamity, with stories of exceptional suffering and injustice.
Folded into these epic tragedies is a raw, specific experience — the toll that walking such long distances takes on the human body.