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India's daily wage workers face starvation

April 28th, 2020
topic:Health and Sanitation
by:Shuriah Niazi
located in:India
tags:Coronavirus, COVID-19, daily wage worker, human rights, Hunger, India, migration, poverty

Migrant workers in many parts of India are battling hunger along with the deadly coronavirus. According to the workers, they will not survive if they do not step out of the house for three weeks.

In the Panipat district in the northern state of Haryana, large numbers of workers have been rendered jobless and are in dire straits. The lockdown and social distancing have affected workers and the poor the most in India.

India announced a three-week lockdown starting from March 24 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected about 2,000 people in the country and claimed 50 lives so far. No train, bus or any other public vehicle, except government and emergency and essential service vehicles, would run during the period.

Shut textile factories leave thousands jobless

Panipat is also known as the textile city as it has a large number of cloth mills. But most small and big factories have shut down during the lockdown. Most of the workers are not getting a salary and the landlords are pressurising them to pay rent despite the government's appeal to the landlords not to demand rent from their tenants during the lockdown.

Ravi Thakur, who hails from Bihar, India’s third largest state by population, said that he has been working in a factory located in Sector 25 of the city for eight years. He said: "We have not got the salary. I live in a small two-room rented apartment along with my wife and two small children. But the landlord is asking me to pay the rent. I borrowed money from a friend and gave it to him. The grocery shop owner refused to give credit as I don’t have money, so it is difficult for us to survive. We're facing starvation."

Prashant Soni, who hails from Bihar’s Patna district, said: "We were working in a textile factory on Kutani Road. No one is helping us. We've no money to buy food."

Things are equally difficult in other parts of the country for migrant and daily wage workers and roadside vendors. Many people belonging to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also live and work in Jharkhand. Bihar is country’s northeastern state that shares its border with Jharkhand, while Uttar Pradesh or UP is its most populous northern state. They work as security guards, factory workers, rickshaw pullers, cleaners, roadside vendors, garbage collectors, and domestic helpers. But after the lockdown, they are in trouble because they are now jobless.

Majority of workforce dependent on cash

Ashok Mali, 30, who lives in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, said: "I have come from Kanpur district of UP. I cannot live here for 21 days without food. Many workers belonging to Jharkhand have already left for their homes in Bihar. Trains and buses are not running. However, many of them have left on foot. But UP is too far off. You can’t go there on foot."

A day after the lockdown was announced, six labourers living in Tupudana locality in Ranchi, left for their homes in Begusarai in Bihar.

One of the labourers Banwari Lal said: "we’re in big trouble. You can’t survive here. Can't find food. We’ve no money. Some social organisations are providing food in the city, but there is not even a bread-seller in the city’s outer area where we live."

Many workers of Bihar, who live in Kanke, a small town near Ranchi, left for Bihar. On the way, the police stopped them. The workers pleaded with the cops to let them go. They said: "How can we stay here. So we’re returning to our homes in Bihar. If we stay here for three weeks, then we’ll certainly die of hunger."

India's informal sector employs the vast majority of the huge workforce. But most of them do not get benefits such as vacations, sick leave, paid leave or social protection such as health insurance. They depend on cash to meet their daily requirements as many of them do not have even bank accounts.

Workers can't afford food supply for three weeks

India is witnessing large-scale migration of labourers from cities to their native villages amid the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent nationwide lockdown.

In national capital Delhi, the biggest problem facing the thousands of workers and the migrants is hunger. Daily wage workers usually have enough money to buy food for only two to three days and they can’t survive a three-week lockdown.

Thousands of despairing migrant labourers thronged the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Noida on March 28 as they were desperate to reach their homes in Uttar Pradesh and other states.

At the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminal in Delhi, the men, women, and children could be seen waiting in unending queues to board buses although no transport facility was available due to ongoing lockdown. The stranded migrants could reach their homes only after the UP Government deployed about 1,000 buses to transport those stranded in the border districts to their native villages. About another 100 buses were arranged by Delhi Government. Similarly, people stranded in Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Bulandshahar in neighbouring UP and other places were ferried to their respective homes.

State and district borders sealed

Meanwhile, authorities fear large-scale migration of labourers out of panic and fear from cities to their homes amid the coronavirus lockdown across the country could become a big problem.

The Central Government has directed state governments and Union Territory administrations to efficiently seal state and district borders to prevent the exodus of migrant workers during the lockdown and suggested that those violating the curb will be sent to 14-day quarantine. The Central government has urged state governments provide adequate support, including food and shelter, to stranded migrants across the country and set up temporary accommodation for them.

In Uttar Pradesh, Aligarh District Magistrate CB Singh said about 300,000 migrant workers had been transported on buses to different districts of UP and neighbouring states. The Bihar government has set up camps in border districts to shelter migrant workers returning from different states. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed displeasure over Delhi and UP’s decision to send stranded daily-wage workers to the state.

Workers walk back to native village in fear of no support

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has said the government had made arrangements to feed at least 400,000 poor people. Nearly 600 government schools across the national capital have been turned into centres where the poor and homeless would be given food. Besides a number of flying squads were pressed into service in and around the city to give food packets to those migrant workers who are walking back to their native villages.

Amid the lockdown, some heart-rending stories have also been reported from different parts of the country. According to reports, at least 17 migrant workers and their family members, including five children, have died so far while trying to return home after India announced lockdown.

According to commentators, the Central and state governments also had not made any preparation to help those who survive on daily wage earners. This caused panic among them and they took to the roads and walked hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes in various states.

Article written by:
Shuriah Niazi
Shuriah Niazi
Author
India
The lockdown and social distancing have affected workers and the poor the most in India.
No train, bus or any other public vehicle, except government and emergency and essential service vehicles, would run during the period.
"We have not got the salary. I live in a small two-room rented apartment along with my wife and two small children. The grocery shop owner refused to give credit as I don’t have money, so it is difficult for us to survive."
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