The three-week national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus has jeopardized the daily bread of many workers and labourers. Many have left the city on foot for their hometowns and villages hundreds of kilometres away. But many have not gone back and are still in the cities, with no work or income.
Ajay Kumar, 25, an e-rickshaw driver in South Delhi’s Sanjay Colony says he would have left for his village in Ghazipur if he had any inkling there would be a three-week shutdown. “Twenty one days is a long period,” he sighs, “the money I have will only last 2-3 days. God knows what will happen after that.”
He adds that after demonetization – when the Indian government banned 500 and 1000 rupee notes – one could still borrow money from some person or the other, but now, everybody’s money is running out. Another person, Ratan Lal (62), a painter, says his employer gave him Rs 2000 and said that he’d be called when there is work. A good part of that money has already been spent in buying essentials, and he knows there is no work for the next three weeks at least.
“Roz kuan khodte they, roz paani peete they (We used to work everyday and earn our bread). What do we do now?” asks Lal. His neighbour, forty-year old Ram Dular is eating only once a day, to push the crisis a little further. “The stomach can compromise only once. The second time it does ask for food,” says the tailor, adding that he hasn’t got money even for the 22 days he worked before lockdown, from the garment factory he works at.
A mason says his contractor has switched off his phone. Another is worried about how he’ll send money to his wife and kids back home when he is not earning. Rent. The EMIs of the e-rickshaw. Cooking gas. Their concerns are piling up. Amd they worry what will happen if the lockdown extends. The government must do something, they say, or they are going to starve.