Sailesh Kumar is one of hundreds of millions of poor Indians struck hardest by the world’s largest coronavirus lockout, with his rickshaw lying idle outside his one-room shack.
His family of six are trapped outside of New Delhi in their slum home earning nothing and desperately waiting for the money the government promises.
Kumar is a migrant worker, like an estimated 100 million others. He left his home village in Bihar, India’s poorest district. It goes for his children “for a better life” seven years ago and “good education.”
Before India’s 21-day lockdown started on March 25, the 38-year-old received-on a good day – the equivalent of $4 a day cycling his rickshaw, while his wife was cooking and cleaning up as a domestic worker.
Now with all operation except critical services being halted in the country of 1.3 billion people, Kumar is unable to work and the employers of his wife will not even let her in the house.
“They fear like she’s going to give them the disease,” he said.
Better to Starve
The fear of going hungry triggered an exodus last month of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families. Many of them go back on foot, returning to their villages. On the other hand, some people perished along the way.
This week the International Labor Organization (ILO) said 400 million Indians working in the informal economy are at risk of slipping deeper into poverty during the crisis.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced direct cash transfers and food subsidies that will benefit some 800 million people. However, all but for this story, one of the seven staff interviewed said they have earned nothing so far.
“It’s easier to die than to live like this,” said the 30-year-old.
“I keep hearing that this and that will be done by the government. Nobody’s even come to see whether we’re alive or dead.”
Back at Mumbai, Vatsala Shinde had a more peculiar task, charging a small fee for superstitious traders outside the stock exchange to feed her cow, a Hindus-sacred animal.
Already forced out of business after 37 years, she recently visited a state-run ration shop urgently searching for essentials. For instance, rice and lentils. On the other hand, the manager told her that she had not qualified for free supplies.
Therefore, she subsists on food given out by a charity.