He has not eaten in two days. All he could manage this morning for breakfast was a puff of bidi that he shared with an acquaintance. He looks exhausted.
Sitting in a corner, resting his back on a pile of sacks, he pulls out all the money from his pocket. All coins.
“What will I tell my family today? How will I survive for the days to come?” Bablu, hailing from Aligarh who loads and unloads goods for traders in Khari Baoli, Chandni Chowk, says.
He is one of many migrant labourers who have not received their daily wages for the past six days. In a day he used to earn at least Rs 400. For the past six days, he has got nothing. All he is now left with are a few coins. “My employer paid me Rs 500 but he gave me the old note. I accepted it thinking it will work, but no one is taking it. Since that day, the employer has stopped the payment. He says he will give it once he gets the new currency. But for how long can we wait?” he says.
For the first few days after demonetisation was announced, Bablu took credit from the local grocery store. He even borrowed money from fellow labourers, but after two days, the shopkeeper stopped lending him groceries. “I do not blame them. For how long can he give me ration on credit? For how long will can my friends lend me money? All of them are suffering too. My wife fights with me, my children are sleeping on empty stomach. I do not know where to go,” he says.
These migrant labourers do not even have Adhaar cards to get their old notes to get them changed or any bank account where they can deposit the money. “I have no savings. Whatever we earn in a day, we spend it. I just had Rs 1,500 cash that I was paid after working for two weeks, but those notes are now unusable. I cannot exchange them because I do not have an ID proof. I had to give them to a shopkeeper who cut a commission and returned Rs 900. That is all I have now,” Lakhan says.
A few metres ahead sits, Shradha Devi. She sells spices in small packets. One packets sells for Rs 10, but she has not sold a single one for the past five days. She has bought the stock from a shopkeeper on credit and the interest is adding up by each passing day. “I bought all this for Rs 600, that too on credit of 5 per cent but I have not been able to sell anything. I have no money, not even enough to buy groceries to cook,” she explains.
Bhagwan Sai Yadav has a similar story to narrate. He sleeps on the roadside and has not eaten for the last four days. “ have not got the payment for the last nine days. What do I do? Who will feed me for free?,” he asks.
He is quick to add. “Modi did a great job, but the government should have thought of us as well. My son is ill. I have to leave the city now. I can’t sustain here any longer,” he said.