LOCKDOWN CRISIS : THE UNHEEDED BATTLE OF DAILY WAGE EARNERS

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Sahib, a thirteen year old kid who is forced to sell fruits after his father, a migrant labourer became jobless. (Photo: Ariba Neyaz)
Sahib, a thirteen year old kid who is forced to sell fruits after his father, a migrant labourer became jobless. (Photo: Ariba Neyaz)

Ariba Neyaz

TNW, Patna, May 13: Sahib is barely a 13 year old kid whose life has now extensively budged into something he would have never imagined. The highly contagious COVID-19 has pushed him out on roads making him a part of the bread earners of his family. He now sells fruits, which was never in his syllabus of dreams. “I wanted to be a police officer “ he confessed while explaining his family’s baleful economic condition due to the Lock down.

His father Mukhtar is one of the migrant labourers who strived to get back to their hometown in the initial week of the spread, when the disease was largely a Chinese and Italian affair. Fortunately he came back from Kolkata, where he used to work in the goat market right before the disease became epidemic in India.

He was at his relative’s house in Chapra ( a town in Bihar) wedged with his bicycle when the nationwide lockdown was announced. He skunked over the distance of around 73 km and got back to his family in Patna. After losing his job to the pernicious corona virus he was coerced to put his family in the front line for battling against hunger. And as he belonged to the category of informal labourer, he couldn’t even avail any of the financial benefits the Indian state claims.

Sahib along with his younger brother selling fruits on his push cart in a locality of Patna. Photo: Ariba Neyaz.

The spurted arrival of the nationwide lockdown has left the informal workers and daily-earners unheeded. The UN’s labour body , International Labour Organisation mentioned in its report that “with a share of almost 90 per cent of people working in the informal economy, about 400 million workers in India are at risk of falling into poverty during the crisis”.

Amid the brouhaha of claims by central and state governments that they are working hand in glove, the informal labourers are struggling to earn their livelihood. According to a new data released by Center for Monitoring The Indian Economy, the lockdown has snatched around 122 million jobs in India in April alone.

Palpable visuals and stories of daily wage earners filled various media platforms when many of them tried fleeing cities on foot to return to their hometowns after losing their jobs. Many of those who rushed on foot couldn’t make it to their destinations. The heart wrenching incident of Maharashtra where 16 migrant labourers were killed when a goods train ran over them, as they had fallen asleep on track, highlights the despair that these people are going through.

Sahib along with his younger siblings selling fruits on his push cart in a locality of Patna. Photo: Ariba Neyaz.

Now, with the arrival of ferrying migrants in Bihar, the question that comes to pass is how are they going to fulfill their basic needs? Also the surveillance and quarantine process adds up to the grinding situation of their struggles. One of the major loopholes that is forcing unemployed workers into the marsh of poverty is the gap between policy and implementation in Bihar. Many wage earners are now stuck in a situation identical to what Mukhtar and his 13 year old boy is facing.

The atrocious position that informal labourers are prodded in, clearly shows mirror to the lower level of bureaucracy. It proves how our power holders are not trained enough to manage policy implementation in such nuanced condition. What is to be noticed here is that feeding their families is more challenging for daily earners , rather than worrying about a virus which still leaves scope for them to survive.

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