Corona lockdown: Abandoned in our miseries, say slum dwellers

Waiting for a relief that never materialised

Politics

March 28, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

For millions of slum dwellers in India, like this slum in Wadi Bandar, Mumbai, the lockdown could lead to starvation (MIG photos/ Varsha Singh)

A day after the Indian government announced relief packages for the vulnerable sections, slum dwellers complain of receiving no help from the government since the lockdown.

On March 26, Nirmala Sitharaman announced an INR 1.7 trillion (USD 24 billion) relief package to partly offset the immense economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sitharaman said that the package was aimed at helping the vulnerable section of the population, including construction workers, senior citizens, farmers, widows, the disabled and others. The ministry said that under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, INR 2,000 will be immediately transferred in the account of 87 million farmers and 5 kg rice or wheat, and 1 kg pulse under PM Garib Kalyan package will be distributed free of cost. LPG cylinders will also be given for free to the beneficiaries of Ujjwala Yojana for the next three months.

Though Sitharaman claimed on numerous occasions that the government was focussing on reaching out to the people in need, the claim sounds hollow as there is a large number of the population that includes workers like the dhobis, rickshaw pullers, barbers, rural labourers, and migrant workers who are mainly not registered with the state governments that have been left out from any relief fund.

However, a recent media report highlighted the incident of kids eating weeds in a village in Uttar Pradesh. Though the incident may appear to be isolated, it is highly likely that the same scenario could replay in various cities and villages all over India and especially the rural areas now where people without work would not be able to feed their families. In fact, the situation is not very different in the commercial capital heart of India, Mumbai, are no different.

Chhaya Kale from Sholapur, who stays in a four square foot house with nine other members of her family, in a slum near Wadi Bandar, near the docklands of Mumbai and who used to work as a daily wager, says that she or anyone in her slum haven’t received any help from the governments side during the lockdown. “Earlier we used to make a living as construction workers. It’s been 10 days today and we don’t have any work as well as any food in our house. Whatever money we had we bought food items with that. But now with the lockdown we don’t know how to get food. The government is not helping us in any way,” Kale tells Media India Group.

Chhaya Kale, a daily wager in Mumbai, says that she is running out of food to feed her family

The government has also announced that 200 million women Jan Dhan account holders would get an ex-gratia amount of INR 500 per month for the next three months and it has also doubled collateral-free loans to INR 2 million for Self Help Group women, helping 70 million women. In other major announcements, an amendment to PF regulation and relief for construction workers were included.

Sakina, another woman in her 40s, who is from the same slum, says,“Every house here has 10-12 family members. I have six children and three daughters-in-law. I sell vegetables and that has completely stopped. There is no work. We don’t even have a bank account. How are we supposed to run our house? We bought groceries with whatever money we had. Nobody has done anything for us. Everything is very costly. What are we going to buy? The government gives us 6 kg of wheat and 4 kg of rice that is what we get but that too we have to buy. We don’t have gas cylinders and even for bathrooms we spend INR 3 per person, for each use.”

“We haven’t received any assistance from the government. They are saying that the grocery shop will be open for citizens, but we don’t have the money to buy groceries. I can show you many such homes in my slum where there are families who are struggling to even buy milk for their kids. The government is only saying that relief would be provided but so far there has been no help. We have asked a local charitable trust to help us, especially to those people who are widows and have kids. The government can ask the trusts to distribute free food amongst people like us. I have spoken to a trust in Malad who are taking the names of the people who don’t have food in their house. We have borrowed money from people to buy milk for a family so that the kids don’t have to suffer,” says Subhrabi Khan, a resident of a slum in Shantinagar, Wadala.

Profiteering during lockdown?                   

Many complain that now even the grocery store owners and vegetable vendors have started to make full use of the opportunity. Some say that they now have to buy vegetables at double the price. “The grocery store owners are charging us double the amount. The things we were getting for INR 10 is now being sold at INR 20 and this has been the norm since the lockdown. People who can make profit out of this situation are using it as an opportunity,” says Shakeel, a resident of the same slum as Khan, who is also working as a volunteer and is helping the police in keeping people from leaving their houses.

Prices of vegetables and groceries have shot up in the last week, increasing the burden on the people (Location: Byculla, Mumbai)

No hope for NGOs

If corona times are stressful for families, then they are even more stressful for the NGOs. Not only do they have to think about providing food to the people but also take good care of the hygiene who are living in their supervision. “The biggest concerns today due to this pandemic are hunger and hygiene along with maximum vulnerability and easy targets of the Corona virus which has no cure till date. If this epidemic affects even one of them, it will be the worst disaster ever. With limited health facilities available, high prices of investigation tests in private hospitals at INR 4,500 and very less chances of getting place in already full hospitals (both public and private) the situation can turn to be a worst nightmare,” Girish Kulkarni, founder of Snehalaya, an NGO that pioneered in working with HIV positive sex workers and their children in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, tells Media India Group.

“The government should help and support the philanthropic individuals, trusts, NGOs, groups who want to support the people starving for food and other basic amenities. The need of support is huge. It’s beyond the reach of the government. People may break all safety norms after a week if they remain hungry, thirsty, shelter less. Even if the food grains are available on subsidies rates, people do not have the purchase power. Presently, the government is busy in policing and creating unnecessary threats in the society. The people have to come on streets for purchase of daily needs. But police is treating them all as they do in communal riots,” adds Kulkarni.

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