No job, rations dwindling: Bengaluru slums hope lockdown is not extended
Bengaluru: Amit Mondal, a 45-year-old ragpicker, keeps his most precious possession – a bowl full of potatoes and plastic bags with rice and lentils – right next to his bed in a rented tin shed. Stuck without work since the beginning of the statewide lockdown, enforced amid surging Covid-19 cases in the second wave of the pandemic, he said he has been surviving on the ration kit provided by an NGO two weeks ago in the Bengali Basti slum near Hebbal.
“I would make around ₹8,000 to ₹9,000 per month by selling dry waste. This month, I haven’t earned a penny and the ₹800 rent for this tin shed is still pending. I hope to pay it soon,” Mondal says, adding that his biggest worry was that the government might extend the lockdown.
In the large migrant settlements in Bengaluru, out-of-work migrant settlers are using up the last bit of ration they got from NGOs and the little savings they had in the past few weeks. Most of them have pinned their hopes on returning to work soon.
The Karnataka government has announced a ₹1,250-crore economic package for farmers, workers employed in the unorganised sector, auto and cab drivers, street vendors, among others. However, several migrant worker groups are not included in it.
A large section of migrant workers in the settlements near Hebbal and Thubarahalli are Bengalis. Since West Bengal is not part of the ‘One Nation, One Ration’ card scheme, many of these slum dwellers are not eligible for ration under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Women in these two settlements work as domestic help in apartments towering over the slums. While in the initial days of the pandemic, they were given salaries, by the beginning of March, all of them had lost their jobs. “In the initial days, they asked us not to come but paid us. Later, they stopped paying us. This is our only income. We are now living on the ration given (by NGOs), even that will run out soon,” said Sharjeena Mondal, a slum dweller.
Although she was fortunate enough to get the first dose of Covid vaccine while working in one of the apartments, she is unclear if she will still have her job if the lockdown is extended further.
Having run out of all his savings, another migrant worker from the slum left for Yelanhanka, 11 km away, to collect garbage. “Someone told me that between 6 am and 10 am, police would not hit you. So, I took a chance. I got enough material to fetch me ₹500. I can’t sit at home as I have to take care of the family,” he said, requesting anonymity.
But this was not the option for everyone. Amit Mondal said he was scared to venture out to pick garbage because of the stories he had heard about police attacking people, even those collecting garbage. “But it is hard. I sent my family to West Bengal a few weeks ago. They are stuck there. I’m unable to send any money and now they are talking about a cyclone,” said Mondal.
Those who are able to go to work are also suffering as there is not enough work.
Sukchand Sekh, a resident of Thubarahalli, works with Urban Company, an app-based service provider, in home cleaning services. “We have to register our temperature every morning on the app. We have our passes. But we are not getting enough work. People are scared. We are barely getting 20% of the work we used to earlier,” he said.
While they are surviving with the rations and money they have, access to medical facilities remains a big concern. In Hebbal slum, at least two people have died so far. One of them, Hashim, a 48-year-old, had tested positive for Covid. While his neighbours managed to get him an oxygen cylinder, he was unable to find a hospital bed despite exhausting all his savings. He died nine days after getting infected. Even for his last rites, his neighbours had to pool in money.
The biggest concern in both Thubarahalli and Hebbal slums was whether the government would extend the lockdown. The migrants believe they will scrape through and survive using the little ration and money they have, but if the lockdown is extended, they will be doomed. “The last lockdown was announced in advance, but this time, they are being extended without prior notice. This leaves migrant workers uncertain about the future,” said Rosey, an NGO staff working in Hebbal slum.