Ramsurat Verma’s family lives on the footpath in Lucknow and has had a hand-to-mouth sustenance. Now, with no income and not enough ration, this family, and many others, are in a fix
“We are daily wage earners, and there has been no work for 10 days. Now, we are told everything will remain shut for 21 days,” said Ramsurat Verma, 65, who lives on the footpath in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, with his family.
“How will I tide over these 21 days? We have used up our entire ration and do not even have any savings. How will we keep our children alive during these 21 days?” asked Verma, who sustains his family by running a tea shop on the footpath.
Verma is just one of the millions of daily labourers in the country who were taken unawares by the 21-day nationwide lockdown (from March 24 to April 14) announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prevent the spread of coronavirus. These labourers were not financially prepared for such a lockdown. Even worse, they neither have a safe place to reside nor any ration to feed themselves during the 21 days.
Originally from Bankatwa village of Nanpara block in Bahraich district, Verma had come to Lucknow about 15 years ago in search of employment.
“Since the lockdown, there has not been a single rupee of income. We have somehow managed for the past few days. Since I have been living here for many years, the ration (public distribution system) people know me and they lend me ration. But, for how long can this continue? Who will lend when you don’t have cash? We may drink water and fill our stomach, but what will these young children do?”
He has six sons and a daughter. His five sons are married. There are now a total of 23 people in his family, together with five daughters-in-law and the children. All the people, except the children, were supporting the family with their daily wages.
Verma’s family lived for many years in a shack made from tarpaulin on the footpath in front of gate number two of Janeshwar Park in Gomtinagar, Lucknow. But the shack was removed by local authorities on March 18 as part of the administration’s drive to fight the spread of COVID-19. The income of the family has stalled since then.
The family is now forced to spend days under the shade of a tree and nights under the open sky.
“There are many people who are devastated, but nobody is going to notice. Who looks after the poor? In so many days, you are the first person to enquire about our wellbeing,” Janaki Devi, 60, Verma’s wife, told Gaon Connection. “Because of the lockdown, there isn’t any work, but this stomach needs to be fed daily. From where and how will we arrange for food?” she said.
“I used to be a daily labourer. I then put up this small tea shop. When the children grew up, they started running rented e-rickshaws. My wife and daughters-in-law either work for daily wages or put up a small pan-masala stall in front of Janeshwar Park. This is how we have been feeding ourselves,” Verma said as he gathered his beddings from the pavement. “Ours has been a hand-to-mouth existence. We barely manage to feed ourselves, so could never save. It never occurred to us that there could be such a crisis as this.”
Verma said no government official has reached out to people like him to help. After the lockdown, the Centre announced a financial package to help workers registered with the labour department. But since daily labourers are not registered with the department, they will not get any benefit.
The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has announced an aid of Rs 1,000 per month for construction and daily wage labourers. The first installment was released to about 20 lakh construction workers as on Tuesday.
“Soon, financial aid will be transferred to the accounts of labourers and street vendors not registered with the labour department of Uttar Pradesh. We have authorised the district magistrates to ensure this is done. Those who have been deprived of this facility and are not covered by any scheme, those who have no means of earning and whose sources of income have been affected, they should be identified in urban and rural areas at the district level. For this, the bodies concerned at the local levels are engaged in preparing a list,” the chief minister said.
Verma said he has not yet received any help.
Seema, the wife of Verma’s fourth son, is worried more for her daughter than for herself. “Although we earned little, we never experienced such a crisis. We used to earn enough to eat vegetables and bread. Ever since this lockdown, we make do with rice gruel or roti-chutney,” she said. “Today, we have only potatoes that will be boiled and had. We will think about tomorrow later. The lockdown may prevent the spread of the disease, but it will hit the poor with hunger. There is provision for food. We will only die of hunger,” Seema said. “Poverty is an evil. If my little child falls ill, we cannot even have her treated.”
The family is in a quandary — the members can neither go back to their villages nor can they think of just staying on the footpath without work.
Gyanvati, 31, the wife of Verma’s second son, was heard explaining the family’s condition to her young children: “Now you don’t insist on going to the shop. Dad is no longer running an e-rickshaw, all the money is finished.” Her children listened to her quietly. Gyanvati’s husband Pappu, 35, runs rented e-rickshaws.
“When you look at the condition of your children, you cry. It is not a two-day thing, there is a whole month remaining. We would have Rs 150-200 left after paying the rent for the rickshaws. That was barely enough for such a large family. I was not able to save anything. Now, a day is as tedious and difficult to get by as an entire year,” he said, sitting idly on his rented e-rickshaw, even as his eyes welled up.