NEW DELHI — Rajib, a worker from India’s eastern state of Bihar, suddenly finds himself penniless and helpless in Delhi.
On the morning of March 25, the first day of the three-week-long lockdown in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, he called up his friends to borrow some money.
None of his friends had any cash to spare, having bought basic foodstuff the previous night to survive the coming days without work.
“I have had no work for the last few days. I went around asking for money. Then someone helped me by giving me a packet of rice. I do not know how I am going to survive without an income,” Rajib told Bernama on Wednesday.
He drives a rented electric three-wheeled rickshaw and can earn around 600 rupees (about US$8) on a normal day.
The rickshaw-owner charges him 3,000 rupees per month, leaving Rajib with 15,000 rupees in monthly earnings.
After paying for his rented room, which he shares with two more migrant workers and his food expenses, Rajib is able to send some money to support his family in his native village.
The rickshaw is now locked in parking and the owner has gone home to a village because of the lockdown during which police will not allow movement of vehicles and people, except those providing essential services.
Many of Rajib’s friends, who were unable to financially help him, are also electric rickshaw drivers and now as anxiety-ridden as him.
“I am ready to do other jobs like push a handcart or drive a pedal goods rickshaw, but everything has shut down. I cannot even go back to my village because there are no buses,” Rajib said.
What he is not willing to do is to drive a cycle rickshaw for carrying passengers, although even this work is not available during the lockdown and those who pull such rickshaws are in a worse state of misery and wretchedness.
There have been reports in Indian media of migrant workers walking from cities to their native villages.
Radheshyam Patel, set off on foot on a 150-km journey from Ahmedabad city in Gujarat to his village in Rajasthan along with 50 other migrant workers, on Tuesday night after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on television that India would be placed under a nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus threat.
“Most of us work here (Ahmedabad) at tea stalls or food joints. Since everything is shut, our employers have asked us to come back only after things get normal, as they don’t have money to pay us. Since buses and other modes of transport are not available, we have decided to walk to reach home,” he was quoted as saying in a local media report.
There were several reports of migrant workers leaving large cities like Delhi and Mumbai on foot just to be with their families in their native villages.
India’s large commercial hubs attract millions of workers from remote and poor areas and many cannot survive without their daily incomes.
Modi said the lockdown, being enforced in every city, neighbourhood and village, was necessary “in order to protect the country, and each of its citizens”.
But for India’s most vulnerable, it represents a different struggle for survival.