Stories from the ground

How does COVID-19 and a 21 day lockdown impact daily wage workers in slums and villages of India?  We bring to you updates from our partner organizations and activist friends on the ground in India. We bring to you news of their concerns, the challenges they face and the efforts they are taking to tackle the problem. Your support in these trying times is much needed.  Please give generously to the COVID Relief Fund for India.

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Slum-dwellers of Mumbai need access to food and amenities, and require innovative solutions for distancing amidst the lockdown

The urban poor who live in slums face high risk in this situation – their living conditions do not allow for effective physical distancing, they live in close proximity to epicenters of the pandemic, and a lockdown without governmental financial support can result in tremendous economic anxiety.  Slum dwellers who have been organized over the last few years for their rights and access to amenities in more than 20 slums in Mumbai,  currently have more than 30 cases of Covid-19 (as of March 24th).  They identified 1000 households in Malad, Ambujwadi, and Govandi, who have absolutely no support to survive the 21 day lockdown.

There is enough awareness materials from WHO and local doctors’ groups, but due to the congested living conditions, they find it difficult to respect the lockdown and distancing. They are trying for a curfew pass to be able to distribute rations to those 1000 households. The initial estimate is Rs. 800 per packet, each of which will contain 10 days ration for 1 household. They have a system in place to have people stand in designated spots to receive rations, and in the very dense bastis, they will supplement this with house to house distribution to avoid crowding.

Migrant workers returned from cities in India and abroad to their villages in Sundarbans, and the villages need immediate support

In this globalized world, even the very remote villages in India have many of their residents working in cities in India and abroad. In Sundarbans, like in the rest of rural Bengal, migrant labourers returned last week from cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and places in the Middle East via flights and trains. Sankar Haldar of Mukti, an organization working on helping people in the Mathurapur II Block of Sundarbans, paints a grim picture of the situation.

He says that most of the workers went to their villages without adequate knowledge or capacity of social distancing and quarantine. Unlike cities like Kolkata, Sankar says that the villages can’t be effectively locked down, as the houses and the society are not designed for individualism.

Since March 20, Mukti deployed 80 school teachers across the region to spread awareness about the disease, hygiene and physical distancing. They also developed messages on social media to spread awareness among villagers. They need protective equipment like masks and sanitizers, and are exploring methods to make them locally. Sankar thinks that the situation is fluid, and there might be a need for much larger relief in view of the economic impact from the lockdown.

Vulnerable communities – salt farmers, daily wage earners, and tribals in Gujarat face difficult times due to the lockdown

The Indian economy runs on the labour of its unorganized sector, and the Covid-19 lockdown and the lack of financial support can bring ruin to the lives of this workforce.

We spoke to Harinesh Bhai of the forum Janpath that works with vulnerable communities across Gujarat, and he provided us with an update on how the economic impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown is felt acutely by the most disadvantaged people. According to him, daily wage workers like construction workers, street vendors etc across the state have not earned anything in the last week – and they can’t sustain for 2-3 more weeks.

Janpath has been trying to help communities in regions where they have field workers. For example, they have ensured that the Agariyas, the salt farmers of Rann, are able to come out to trade their product on one day, when they will get both the advance for salt from the traders and also collect their ration from the Public Distribution shops. They have ensured that only one person from each family will come in every 15 days.

The government has promised to give 5 kg of ration free of cost from April 1st, but Harinesh Bhai thinks it will not be enough as many of the migrant workers don’t have ration cards at the place where they live and work. There are several vulnerable communities, like the tribal daily wage workers of Banaskantha district of Gujarat, who might not be able to avail the ration as they don’t possess Aadhaar cards. Janpath has identified several such families, and are planning to provide them with ration kits with food for one month, which they estimate will cost Rs. 1000 per family.

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