On 24th March 2020 a nationwide lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister, Mr.Narendra Modi, and this was to continue till April 14th 2020. Now this lockdown has been extended till May 3rd 2020. People were advised to stay indoors and maintain social distancing.
I stay in Dharavi, Central Mumbai, which is Asia’s biggest slum. Around 7 lakhs people stay here and the majority of them are workers and self employed persons. Many of the people staying here are daily wage workers and their livelihood depends on daily work. Their families are in their native places and they depend on these workers to send money home every month. In Dharavi, these workers stay in close cramped quarters, many to a room. Many rooms have 10 people staying in a 10x10 square foot tenement with poor ventilation. People working in shifts use the beds in succession and that is how they were managing. After the lockdown was enforced, they are locked in their own houses which was not at all meant to accommodate everyone at the same time. Also the houses in Dharavi are in narrow gullies and it is impossible to walk down these gullies without brushing against another person also walking up the same gully. Moreover they have to use common toilets in unhygienic conditions. What kind of social distancing is possible in these conditions?
In these hot summer days, the residents of Dharavi are literally like prisoners in their own “house”, unable to go out to get a breath of fresh air. They have exhausted their little savings in the past more than three weeks for buying food and other essential items . They have no option available for their livelihood and hunger is staring at them. They are told that they should eat nutritious foods to stay healthy, but how can they do that without any money? They are afraid that they will die of hunger rather than of the corona virus. Things have deteriorated so much that workers tried to leave for their home towns by walking, in the absence of any transport facility. These people are from various states of our country and they desperately want to reach their homes.
Government is announcing that people with Aadhar card will be given 5 kg rice and 5 kg wheat free of cost but it has been nearly 20 days and many of the workers have received nothing. Moreover, to receive this, people need to go ration shops and they need to submit photocopies of their Aadhar card. With the lockdown in force, none of the photocopying centres are open and people are helpless and not able to get the free ration. Moreover these hard times are used by ration shop owners to extract money from the poor workers. Rice which used to be sold at Rs. 40 per kg is being sold at Rs. 62 per kg and rajma which used to be sold at Rs 108 per kg is being sold at Rs. 160 per kg. To make matters even more difficult, the vegetable market is open only on Mondays and Fridays, only two days a week and even that, only from 8 am to 11 am. On these days the markets are flooded with hordes of people trying to stock up vegetables for the next four days. Again all norms of social distancing is thrown to the winds.
The number of cases of Covid 19 are increasing in Dharavi day by day and it has already crossed 100. This is due to the close cramped quarters in which people are forced to live and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing as I have explained above. Also due to inadequate testing facilities and the very low numbers of people who are getting tested, all those infected may not be getting identified and they may be still in the community silently spreading it among more and more people.
Covid 19 is a pandemic and people are fighting it with brotherhood but there are some who are spreading wrong information setting one community against another by viciously propagating lies and communal hatred. Dharavi has been a place for people from all across the country and with different religions but in the name of a congregation held in Delhi the Muslim community is being targeted so that people’s unity can be broken.
This shows the very anti-people nature of our rulers where workers who build houses, run factories, mine coals, run trains, repair railways etc., are forced to live in subhuman conditions in crowded juggi zhopadis. In these desperate times when the need is for isolation and nutritious food to boost their immune system to fight this deadly virus, workers are left to suffer without any of these facilities. This exposes the tall claims of India being the fastest growing economy in the world. We can see in Dharavi the worst conditions of workers and this is not just the story of Dharavi but of the workers all over the country.