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Covid19 Lockdown: Migrant workers in Delhi struggle to make ends meet as salaries seem out of bounds


New Delhi, Apr 05: Mamata, a housemaid, regrets not leaving the city for her village in Bihar when the government imposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Bhim Singh, a gardener, rues that he is unable to collect his salary amid the restrictions and make ends meet. This is the story of thousands of migrant workers who stayed back in the national capital to earn their livelihood.

Lockdown times: Migrant workers in Delhi struggle to make ends meet as salaries seem out of bounds

With the lockdown imposed across the country, they complain that they are being shooed away from the high-profile societies they work. Surviving on a frugal meal since March 24 , the day the lockdown was enforced by the government, Mamata (57) thought she would soon be able to continue her work as housemaid in Noida and decided against leaving for her village in Darbanga with her neighbours. But Mamta's hope soon faded as whenever she stepped out to go to work, she was stopped by the police and sent back.

"I was scolded and showed danda (stick) and told I was risking my life and other's lives too," she said. "I was waiting for April 1 thinking at least I would be able to collect my salary, but that did not happen. I was sent back," Mamta said. "We are unable to reach our employers, nor are they coming to our locality to give us our salaries. I do not have a bank account either,” she added.

When asked, a police constable on duty said they are just following orders and housemaids are not in the list of 'essential services’. "How can we let them pass? If they are found roaming on the roads, we will be hauled up," he said. Megha, another house maid, says that she was asked to return when she went to collect her monthly salary. "We are all at risk from the disease, but it is poor people like us who are treated as untouchables even at this time," she said.

Megha also says that she regrets not leaving Delhi for her village in West Bengal's Durgapur. "At least in my village, we had our relatives to lend us money. Here no one has money in my locality, so who would lend us help?" she rued. India is under a three-week lockdown since March 24 with its 1.3 billion people instructed to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed 56 lives and infected over 2,800 people in the country.

Soon after the announcement of the lockdown was made, many migrant workers, including women and children, walked many miles to reach their native places in the absence of any transport. Bhim Singh says he often thinks that the hardships would have ended if he would have reached his village. "But right now it is an everyday struggle," he said. Activists believe that the government must look for means to deliver salary to the migrant workers and not force them to collect the same on their own.

All India Progressive Women's Association secretary and rights activist Kavita Krishnan said the government has to recognise and ensure that rations and funds reach people wherever they are and not expect them to come and get it. "The government can take over for this period of time and ensure that everybody is taken care of. It is not just that they do not have money. The problem is compounded by the fact that markets are overpricing stuff so the prices of food are through the roof and they will get higher," she said.

Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, said these things should have been planned in advance. "The support staff does not have so much savings that they can manage," she said. According to Vani Subramanian, member of the women's group Saheli Trust, the government needs to think that people need to collect their salaries. "If we can get the salaries transferred to our accounts, then these people who have done legitimate work should not be treated like criminals for coming to take their own hard earned money," she said.

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