It doesn’t happen only with Rohingyas on the high seas. Local residents and policemen were startled when they heard helpless voices coming from inside a container pleading for someone to rescue them. To the horror of onlookers, as many as 100 men, women and children were found packed inside a windowless shipping container on a truck passing down the Agra-New Delhi highway.
The attention of passersby and authorities was first drawn to the truck at Sultanganj Ki Pulia, after human voices and knocks were heard on the walls of the container. The truck, however, managed to travel five more kilometres and negotiate two major crossings, including Sultanganj and Bhagwan Talkies, before policeman Raj Narain Uttam, guarding the western point of the crossing at Khandari, gauged that there was something wrong about the vehicle. He had spotted desperate hands waving from some small openings on top of the container. By then, the voices were screaming so loud that they could be heard above the horns of vehicles passing by.
Uttam ordered the driver to stop the vehicle but he allegedly kept going until the policeman chased the truck for 500m before flagging it down. When the driver opened the container’s doors, policemen and onlookers were greeted by a nightmarish sight: more than 100 people were packed close to one another in the airless box in the steaming heat. Of the nearly 50 children inside, several had lost consciousness due to the heat (well above 40 degrees Celsius, not counting the suffocating conditions inside the box) and humidity. The others, ranging in age from 2 to 14 years and mostly dressed in single pieces of cloth, were barely able to stand when they were freed.
“I cried when I saw the children, trapped inside the container, shouting for help. When the driver opened the doors, it felt like we were standing near a ball of fire. The people inside, packed along with their belongings, were wet with sweat, thirsty from the hours of confinement and helpless. No one had come to their aid even though they had been shouting and banging on the walls for hours,” Uttam told on Monday.
The group turned out to be agricultural labourers being taken to work from Khaga in Fatehpur district to Govardhan in Mathura, a distance of more than 400 km, to sow rice. They had hired the container truck (HR55 M 9234) for Rs 2,000 and had been shut in with no respite for hours. The journey had started from Khaga on Sunday night. The driver stopped the truck thrice during the trip, which had been on for about 12 hours.
“We managed to endure being locked during the night but after sunrise, the condition inside the vehicle became terrible. We asked the driver to open the doors but he refused and locked them from the outside,” said Raju, one of the labourers. “We have seized the truck and the driver Deepak has been booked for cruelty,” said Ashok Kumar, CO Hariparwat.