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COVID-19 Lockdown: Daily Wage Workers Struggle for Survival

The COVID-19 lockdown has robbed the daily wage workers of their earnings. Delivery boys, contract workers and daily wage earners are either out of jobs or have seen a sharp drop in their earnings. For daily wage earners, a significant number of them migrants, the lockdown has come as a tsunami - at short notice, giving them little time to prepare for the consequences and threatening to take away everything they had managed to build and save.

March 26, 2020

Though food delivery apps are technically exempted from the Coronavirus lockdown, restrictions on movement coupled by self-regulation by patrons have adversely affected this booming business. This Corona- downturn has impacted the livelihoods of thousands employed with these Apps as delivery staff. For Zomato delivery boy Manoj Kumar, his usual 12-hour shift in Delhi's Bhajanpura locality used to earn him Rs 700-800 daily but since the lockdown he says he is barely making Rs 100-300.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

With the 21 day lockdown severely restricting vehicular movement, a large informal ancillary that thrived because of Delhi's massive traffic volume has taken a hit too. Sunil Singh Tomar could earn between Rs. 800-1000 daily repairing punctured tyres. As vehicles went off roads with the lockdown, Tomar's daily earnings dropped to Rs. 100-200. Now the cops want him to shut shop in view of the restrictions imposed until April 15.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

The lockdown has forced nearly every office to allow its employees to work from home. With people confined indoors, the urban poor who earned their livelihood because of the needs of Delhi's huge working class suddenly find themselves out of work. Those who earned their livelihood by washing the cars of residents of gated communities and posh localities or people who offered laundry and ironing services have no work during the lockdown. Lakshmi, who ran a shack for ironing clothes in an East Delhi locality is just one of many such unwitting victims of the financial crisis triggered by the lockdown.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

Among the worst-hit by the adverse financial consequences of the lockdown are the migrant workers. With inter-state borders locked down and passenger trains suspended, the migrants - mostly from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand - can't return to their villages while the restrictions of the curfew have left them with no source of income in Delhi. Karu and Muso Singh, natives of Begusarai in Bihar, lived on Delhi's busy streets, earning their livelihood as cycle-rickshaw pullers. The rickshaws aren't their own and they must pay a daily rent of Rs.60 to the 'malik'. The lockdown has banned all public transport and left Karu and Muso with no work and no money. They say they have no savings to buy food and have been surviving on Delhi's streets for the past three days on water and food donated by some people.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

They may fare better financially than Karu and Muso Singh, but the autorickshaw drivers in Delhi too fear that the lockdown will extract a heavy cost. An autodriver in Delhi can earn about Rs. 1000 on a good day but the ongoing restriction on movement have left Delhi's autowallahs with no sawari (passenger) and no kamai (income).

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

For daily wage earners, a significant number of them migrants, the lockdown has come as a tsunami - at short notice, giving them little time to prepare for the consequences and threatening to take away everything they had managed to build and save, which was very little to start with. Ask Mohammad Tasleem, who earned Rs. 500 as a daily wage worker picking odd jobs around East Delhi. For the past week, Tasleem has failed to get any work.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

On a good day, street food vendors are the primary feeders of a large chunk of Delhi's population. From the neighborhood chaiwala, the omelette wala at the corner of the street, the gol gappe wala or the chaat ka thela corner to the more specialised kebab and tikka vendors in different pockets of Delhi - each of them ensure that there's always some grub for the go in bustling Delhi. The ongoing lockdown though has now forced street food vendors to shut their shops. With no work and no patrons, those who fed Delhi may perhaps have no resources to feed themselves and their families by the time the lockdown is over.

Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

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