Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Plight of the Poor

India  has a population of 1.3 billion and been put into lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. "There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes," Modi said. 

 People have been told to stay indoors, but for many daily-wage earners this is not an option.
Ramesh Kumar, explains, "I earn 600 rupees ($8; £6.50) every day and I have five people to feed. We will run out of food in a few days. I know the risk of coronavirus, but I can't see my children hungry," he said.

Millions of other daily-wage earners are in a similar situation. Millions of other Indians also earn money as street traders - people who own small businesses and employ people like themselves.

Mohammed Sabir, who runs a tiny stall selling yogurt-based drinks in Delhi, says he had hired two people recently, anticipating more business during the summers.
"Now I can't pay them. I don't have any money. My family earns some money from farming in my village. But their crops were damaged this year due to hailstorms, so they were looking at me for support. I feel so helpless. I fear that hunger may kill many like us before coronavirus," he said.
All monuments are also shut in the country and that has had an impact on many who make money from tourism. Tejpal Kashyap, who works as a photographer at the iconic India Gate in Delhi, said he had never seen such a sharp drop in business.
"Last two weeks were bad - even when there was no lockdown. There were hardly any tourists. Now I can't even go back to my village and I can't even work. I am stuck here in Delhi and constantly worried about my family in my village in Uttar Pradesh," he said.
Drivers of ride-hailing services like Uber and Ola are also suffering.
Joginder Chaudhary, who drives a taxi for the employees of an airline in Delhi, says the government needs to give "some relief to people like me".
"I understand the importance of the lockdown. Coronavirus is dangerous and we need to protect ourselves. But I can't help but think how I will support my family if the lockdown continues for weeks," he said.

Several state governments, from Uttar Pradesh in the north to Kerala in the south have promised direct cash transfers into the accounts of workers like  Kumar. Modi's government has also promised to help daily-wage earners affected by the lockdown. But there are logistical challenges.
90% of India's workforce is employed in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organization, working in roles like security guards, cleaners, rickshaw pullers, streets vendors, garbage collectors and domestic helps. Most do not have access to pensions, sick leave, paid leave or any kind of insurance. Many do not have bank accounts, relying on cash to meet their daily needs.
Kishan Lal, who works as rickshaw puller in the northern city of Allahabad, said he had not made any money in the past four days. "I need to earn to feed my family. I have heard that the government is going to give us money - though I have no idea when and how," he said.

His friend Ali Hasan, who works as a cleaner in a shop, said he had run out of money to buy food.
"The shop shut down two days ago and I haven't been paid. I don't know when it will open. I am very scared. I have a family, how am I going to feed them?" he asked.
Lots are migrant workers, which means that they are technically residents of a different state to the one where they work, people who do not live in any state for a long period as they move around to find work. 

Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, admits these challenges are huge, acknowledging that "nobody in any government has faced them before".
"All governments need to act lightning fast because the situation is changing every day. We need to activate big community kitchens and deliver food to people who need it. We need to hand out cash or rice and wheat - irrespective of who comes from which state," he said. "We have got to stop people from travelling to one city from another to avoid community transmission. And one way of doing is to ensure food security. People rush to their villages in times of crisis," he added.

And some haven't even heard about coronavirus.  A cobbler said he had been "polishing people's shoes at the railway station in Allahabad for years, but nobody is showing up now". He said he doesn't even know why people have stopped travelling.
"I don't know what is happening. Not many people are coming to the station these days. I know that some curfew is going on, but I don't know why," he said.

Vinod Prajapati, who sells water, summed it all up.
"I know everything about coronavirus. It's very dangerous, the whole world is struggling. Most people who can afford and have a place to stay are indoors. But for people like us, the choice is between safety and hunger. What should we pick?" he asks.

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