No lockdown on hunger

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With the lockdown in place, Saira has been unemployed for over a week and has no money for rations. (Morung Photo)

 

Migrant daily wagers feel the brunt of lockdown

 

Veroli Zhimo

Dimapur | April 1

 

While Nagaland has not witnessed any chaotic scenes like the mass exoduses in other parts of the country, the situation is grim for the state’s migrant daily wage labourers. They are generally engaged as construction workers, auto rickshaw drivers, waiters, and similar unskilled or semi-skilled jobs and stay in rented accommodation.

 

These migrant workers either earn daily wages or monthly incomes which barely allow them to save up for situations like the 21-day lockdown which has now become a matter of subsistence.

 

Marajul Islam, a construction worker from Karimganj district in Assam, had to stop working when the nationwide lockdown was enforced on March 25. His wage which was due on March 29 has been withheld because the work was not completed.

 

“I have about 2 kilos of rice and a few potatoes left in my kitchen,” Marajul says, as his wife and two young children anxiously looked on.

 

The mood was equally glum in Saira’s household of six. A single mother, Saira used to earn approximately Rs 3000 a month doing domestic chores for two families in Dimapur’s Dhobinala area. But now with the lockdown in place, she has no work and no money for rations.

 

Adding to her woes, Saira received a call from her mother and grandmother who live in one of the many shanties in Dhobinala area, informing her that they have also run out of food and money.

 

Ramavtar Sahu, a native of Bihar, who makes a living selling clothes on the pavement along the Nyamo Lotha Road, has been luckier. His landlord has informed him that he would not be collecting rent for the month of March and has also provided some rations for Sahu and other daily wagers living on his property.

 

While it is difficult to ascertain the number of migrant workers in the state, former General Secretary of the Labour Union Nagaland, Harindar Singh Parmar estimated that there were roughly 500 labourers registered in Dimapur Sardar alone. This includes only those who are engaged in loading and unloading cargo. Other daily wagers like ‘thela’ pushers, auto rickshaw drivers etc, have their own unions, he said.

According to Harindar, most of the unions are trying to identify the needy sections so that they can provide rations and other materials. But in the midst of the lockdown, it has been a daunting task, he says.

 

The economic impact of the shutdown on Nagaland’s working class is yet to be assessed, but over a dozen people who The Morung Express interviewed in the state’s commercial hub over the course of the lockdown period said that they had already begun to feel the blow since the beginning of the week.

 

While many of the non-government organisations and other social and religious groups distribute food, many like Saira and Marajul have not been able to gain access to the provisions because of the lockdown.

 

 “I heard that many NGOs are distributing food in Railgate, but how will I go there when the government has told us not to go out?” Saira questioned.

 

Marajul also echoed Saira’s sentiment. “We need the food, but I am afraid of going out during the lockdown. I cannot afford to pay fines or get locked up during this time,” he says.

 

On Tuesday morning, as people lined up to buy vegetables from a temporary market in Midland, Ashish and his two housemates were seen arguing over whether they should buy potatoes or cabbages. The trio were engaged as auto rickshaw drivers earning Rs 300-400 per day before the lockdown put a stop to their daily income.

 

Their argument would seem silly on most days, but today, with just Rs 600 left to buy food, “we have to buy things that will not only fill our stomach but also last long,” says Ashish. Potatoes won.

 

“We just came back from our landlord’s house. We asked him to take only half the rent for March, and he agreed,” Ashish adds. “I don’t even understand what this disease is but I hope they find a cure soon,” he said. “We all need to return to work.”

 

Good news came for Saira in the middle of this interview. A neighbor came calling, asking her if she would make dinner rotis for her small family in exchange for a small fee. A deal was struck for Rs 50 to be paid every evening.

 

As for Marajul and others like him who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, they will have to wait for the government to realise how grave the issue of lost livelihoods due to the shutdown has been, especially for workers in the informal sectors.