New Delhi (AFP)

With 23,000 kilometers swallowed in a hundred days, the Suzuki Ertiga of Barkha Dutt accuses the blow of the long journey of this Indian journalist to recount the suffering of her poor compatriots in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic.

Since hitting the road with her team in March, this seasoned television reporter has crisscrossed the country of 1.3 billion people to testify to the impact of the virus in the cities and towns of the Asian giant. South. A trip which she describes as "trying".

"I saw so many corpses, I attended so many burials, I had to abandon so many people who collapsed in my arms," ​​said the 48-year-old journalist when AFP met her during 'a shooting in front of a hospital in New Delhi.

The former star of the non-stop news channel NDTV brought back from this road trip countless human stories of despair and hope from all over India, published in the form of reports on her YouTube channel Mojo.

From late March to early June, India implemented some of the most severe national containment in the world to limit the spread of the virus. All means of public transport suddenly stopped, the various states closed their borders.

Tens of millions of migrant workers, who came from the countryside to earn a living in major Indian cities, found themselves unemployed overnight. Some have attempted to return to their village of origin at all costs, even if it means walking hundreds of kilometers - a long walk that has claimed the lives of dozens of them.

In the midst of this unprecedented exodus, the journalist thus saw "children walking without shoes under a blazing sun and sometimes at night, with the only light of the moon to guide them".

- "The high price" -

In the state of Haryana, a neighbor of the capital New Delhi, she notably met the family of a man who sold his mobile phone for 2,000 rupees (23 euros) in order to get money.

He spent the bulk of that money on food and a fan, and then "gave the rest of the money to his wife and committed suicide the next day," said Dutt.

"A man who lost his wife said to me + we are going to die like insects because we are poor +", she recalls. "Someone had to tell these stories."

Shortly after the confinement came into effect on March 25, the journalist got into the car with producer, videographer and driver to follow "the most important story of our lives".

"I did not think at this stage that what I would discover, highway after highway, our poorest citizens walking thousands of kilometers."

The small team had to negotiate hard to cross the closed borders of the various states, and sometimes launch calls for help on Twitter to repair their vehicle in a nation completely stopped.

The confinement "hit our migrant workers hard, millions of them. The poor paid a high price to keep the middle class and the upper middle class safe," said the ex-presenter in retrospect.

His reports also illustrated the differences in situation across India, with the southern states being more compassionate than those in the north. In Dharwad, Karnataka, she discovered a municipal official who had converted hostels into shelters for migrants and had obtained clothing from a local factory.

New Delhi lifted national containment in the face of the critical economic situation in early June, but the Covid-19 epidemic is still raging in the country and has worsened there in recent weeks. In this context, Barkha Dutt intends to continue her journey.

But she will probably give her faithful car a break.

"When we started this trip, there were no planes, hotels or food available on the highways," she said. "Maybe now we're going to take flights between certain cities and then drive by road."

© 2020 AFP