"We were exhausted after walking for so many kilometres. We just wanted to go home. What was our fault," asked a survivor of a horrible tragedy in which 16 of his friends, all migrant workers who had fallen asleep on the railway tracks, were run over by a freight train
A group of 20 migrant workers were reportedly walking on foot from Jalna, a city in the Aurangabad Division of the Indian state of Maharashtra, to Bhusawal, another city in the same state.
The distance between the two cities, according to Google Maps, is over 150km.
However, before they could even reach their destination, from where the migrant workers were hoping to board a special train to return to their home in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, they were mowed down by an empty freight train in the early hours of Friday, 8 May, local media reported.
14 of them died on the spot, while two other succumbed to their injuries in a hospital.
One of the four who survived the incident cannot believe his friends are no more.
According to him, they had walked for over 40km and were exhausted. They stopped for some rest and fell asleep on the tracks. That's when a goods train ran over them at around 5.15am.
"We became thirsty and tired, so decided to have water and take a break on the tracks. As soon as we sat, most of felt sleepy and dozed off while relaxing on the track," The Times of India quoted him as saying.
During the incident, which is just one of the several tragedies that have befallen on India's poor, the motorman of the empty freight train tried to bring the train to a halt but failed to do so in time
According to the Chief Public Relations Officer of South Central Railway, the motorman honked and tried to stop the train after noticing some people along the tracks, but failed to contain the speed.
An inquiry has been ordered under the Commissioner of Railway Safety, SCR.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been blamed for ignoring the plight of the poor since the start of the lockdown from 24 March, took to his Twitter account on Friday to say that he was "extremely anguished" by the loss of lives in the accident.
In a sharp criticism of the way the Indian government has handled the issue of migrant workers, a political strategist tweeted that they have been reduced to mere "statistics".
According to the railway safety watchdog, the migrants were under the impression that no trains have been running since the lockdown
"Apparently, the affected persons had gathered along the track under the impression that the train services have been suspended due to COVID-19 lockdown," Hindustan Times reported it as saying.
"Furthermore, a false sense of security may have come to their minds about there being no trains on run whereas freight, parcel specials have been running from before and now migrant specials have also started plying," the railway safety watchdog wrote, instructing the railway board chairman to ensure abundant caution to avoid any such incidents in the future.
In India, tens of thousands of migrant workers have been fleeing cities for their home amidst the country's stringent lockdown measures
While the Indian government has claimed to provide help for stranded migrants to return to their homes, there have been reports from the Indian media about workers walking from one state to another.
In one case, they started walking for almost 700km as no other means of transport was available.
Previously, an Indian mother rode for about 1,500km for her stranded son, half of it alone passing through half a dozen villages: