This story was originally published in The Swaddle and is written by Rajvi Desai.
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On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but only gave four hours to prepare for it. As people flocked to the streets to stock up on essentials, one group was left unprepared and resourceless — the daily wage workers.
CORO India, a community-based non-profit working in marginalized areas of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, in partnership with Le Mill and The Swaddle, is attempting to help these daily wage workers weather the lockdown. We’re attempting to raise Rs. 1 Crore in 21 days so Coro India can supply rations, medicines and other essentials to people struggling to feed themselves and their families during this pandemic.
Daily wage workers from these communities have shared their stories with The Swaddle, in an attempt to raise awareness about their plight and foster social change.
“My food supply is finished. If we get help, good. If we don’t, well, what more is there to say?” Tasavur Khan, a jari worker from the Govandi area in Mumbai, says. He is the sole breadwinner of his eight-person household, which has exhausted its food supply. “We’re thinking when this will end,” Tasavur says, lost for answers as to how he’ll get his family through this lockdown, without any government help.
“We’re not afraid to die of the coronavirus, because we’re going to die of hunger first,” says Farah Haidarali Shaikh, a rag picker residing near the dumping grounds of Govandi. Farah used to make her living sifting through waste; Now, she’s afraid to step outside of her home because of heavy police presence in her neighborhood. “If we leave from here, the police will beat us up,” Farah says, adding the only option she has left is to depend on charity to get her family through this lockdown.
“The people whose houses I cleaned just told me not to come anymore. Not one of them mentioned anything about money,” Shobha Kamble, a domestic worker who has been out of work for two weeks, says. She didn’t receive any paid leave from her clients, Shobha adds. “I care for my family however much I can,” she says, adding social distancing within her home is a challenge. In a tiny house with five inhabitants, Shobha says, “ We can’t be alone. And we can’t step out.”
“It’s so dirty here, no amount of water can get our hands clean enough,” Mainaz Shaikh, a 14-year-old girl from Govandi, says. She has to step out to avail water and sanitation facilities, she says, adding “We can only wash hands 10 times a day if we have water. If there isn’t enough water, we need to save it for the children.” Stepping out, for Mainaz, has also become risky due to heavy police presence in her area. “If the lockdown extends beyond 21 days, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Mainaz says, citing a lack of water and food as major problems. “If there is no food or water at home, I can see me and my family withering just like that.”
“Ola said they’ll give us Rs. 500 if we get sick. Here we are hoping not to get the virus. We told them not to wait for us to get sick. Hope we’re healthy and help us,” Mohammad Harun, an Ola driver, says. With no help from his employer Ola, and none from the government, Mohammad says the coronavirus pandemic is making life impossible for him and his family, for whom he is the sole earner. “Families, neighbors who have a little bit more than us are helping us out, dropping food at home. But we don’t have any expectations from tomorrow,” he says.
“We have been given one mask and one glove. When I came home, a rat chewed through one of the gloves. When we have so much cleaning to do, how will we work with just one?” Mangal Kamble, a cleaner who works for the BMC, says. Mangal wakes up at 6:30 every morning and waits an hour for a bus to take her to work. “I can’t sit at home. I have kids. If I don’t go to work, I don’t get a salary. So I don’t have an option,” she says, adding she comes home to a cramped space with nine other family members. “We eat, sleep and wash in the same room. It’s a risk we have to take,” Mangal says.
“I used to run my home by collecting money from people who came to use the community toilet. Now, they’re out of work so they’re refusing to pay. But if I close the toilet, they’ll come to fight,” Sangeeta Wagh, a community toilet operator, says. Sangeeta collected up to Rs. 100 per day outside a community toilet in Nashik, Maharashtra, from people who needed access to the public toilet. For three months, she says she hasn’t been given any cleaning supplies. With shops closed, and people out of jobs and refusing to pay for the toilet facility, Sangeeta says she hasn’t been able to keep the toilet in shape. “This is my only way to earn money. My only hope is that if not today, maybe tomorrow someone will be able to pay me,” she says.
“There is a difference between who owns the rickshaw and who drives the rickshaw. As a driver, I have to pay the owner Rs. 150 every day. As long as my rickshaw doesn’t get back on the street, I have nothing,” Anand Nirbhavane, a rickshaw driver in Nashik, says. Anand is afraid the government will seize his rickshaw for three months if he takes it out on the street. Without the revenue from driving people around, however, he says he and his family only have enough food to last 15 days. “I don’t know how long this lockdown is going to last. We were given no notice; we didn’t do any preparation. Whatever money we had, we put toward having food for the next two weeks,” Anand says.
“We are hungry, thirsty, tired, and very, very troubled,” Asha Shaikh, a domestic worker from the Marathwada region in Maharashtra, says. Asha was told not to come to clean her clients’ houses a month ago. None of them paid her, nor did they let her know when she could resume work. Her family is currently running on supplies Coro India gave her, which she says will run out in eight to ten days. Asha is still awaiting the Rs. 500 promised to her by a government scheme.
“We are the kind of people who need to earn every day to eat every day. How are we supposed to prepare for something like this?” Latika Kshirsagar, a seamstress from the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, asks. Latika has no work and no income in the Covid19 pandemic. “I can’t even call myself a seamstress; I’m not doing anything,” Latika says. “I don’t even know how I’m going to feed the six people of my household.”
100% of the funds from the campaign organized by Coro India, LeMill and The Swaddle will go toward supplying rations and other necessities to daily wage workers. To help us reach our goal of #1CroreIn21Days, please click here to donate.