Nizamatpura, Bijnor: With assembly elections round the corners in Uttar Pradesh (UP), politicians have started their respective campaigns to garner maximum support. But for Mohammad Firoz, a 26-year-old bakery worker from Nizamatpura village, about 15 kilometres from the district headquarters of Bijnor in western UP, the biggest worry is to repay the loans his family took for the treatment of one of his uncles who got infected with COVID-19 in the second wave this year.
Firoz was earlier working in a bread-making factory in Mumbai, Maharashtra but had returned to his village in June this year when the second wave of COVID-19 had started wreaking havoc in the country. He boarded a train to his hometown when the Maharashtra government had imposed a lockdown in the state to contain the spread of the virus. Little did Firoz know that his troubles would increase on returning home.
A Pew Research study suggested that India's middle class may have shrunk by a third due to 2020’s pandemic-driven recession, while the number of poor people — earning less than Rs 150 per day — more than doubled.
As soon as Firoz returned home, one of his uncles who was working with him in the factory in Mumbai got infected with COVID-19 when he was campaigning for a local candidate in the village council elections.
The Nizamatpura hamlet is home to about 300 households, majorly belonging to the economically weaker section of the Muslim community. The youths of this village migrate to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ambala and Ahmedabad in search of employment. The literacy rate of the village is low, as per Sarfaraz Ahmad, the husband of the village headwoman who was also working in Mumbai a year ago.
In Firoz's small house, shared by his uncles and their families, one uncle is lying on the bed in the verandah due to extreme heat, with an oxygen mask planted on his nose and a 60 litres oxygen cylinder kept beside the bed. This uncle got infected with the coronavirus and had to be admitted to a private hospital. He was discharged after returning a negative test but his post-COVID complications have left him bedridden.
“My uncle fell ill and we had to get him admitted at a private hospital because we did not get him tested for COVID-19 and the government hospitals were jam-packed with patients. He was tested at a private testing facility and then admitted to a private hospital. We tried our best to get him admitted to the government hospital but we failed. Everyone knows how bad the situation was when this virus hit us,” says Firoz.
He further claims, “The family had spent about Rs 12 lakhs on the treatment. The money was arranged through relatives and by mortgaging a piece of land.”
Food Consumption Reduced
“The post-COVID treatment is also costing us a lot but our aim is to save our uncle's life. We have reduced the consumption of milk, bread and biscuit and we are surviving on the dry ration. The village pradhan has also helped the family with the dry ration. We do not know how we will pay the debts,” Firoz says. There are 11 members in this joint family, of which three are earning including the ill uncle.
Another villager Naushad, who works as a tailor in Mumbai, says that he has to decrease the consumption of milk from 500 ml to 250 ml owing to the financial crisis.
"During the lockdown, I came back to my village and was in the village for four months without any work. To continue our livelihood we have taken some loans from relatives and I have not been able to repay them. I am trying to repay them as my work has resumed and last month I was able to save about Rs 5,000 but that is not enough because the amount of money I took to feed my family during the lockdown is very high,” Naushad says, adding, “The only help that we received during the lockdown was the free dry ration, but for a big family that was not enough so I had to buy some stuff from the market. Daily things like vegetables, edible oil, milk and LPG needed to be bought. All these things added to our misery. I blame my poverty for this situation.”
A Reuters investigation in more than six dozen households of Uttar Pradesh showed that "the borrowing has risen by three times since the pandemic hit in March 2020 and about half of that was taken out in the past six months, the survey found."
"Surging unemployment, coupled with state lockdowns, a large increase in hospitalisations and fatalities amid the second wave and fears of a third wave, are prompting many people to cut spending," as per a Reuters report. According to the Retail Association of India, sales of goods such as footwear, grocery and beauty products had decreased by 49% in April 2021.
India's gross domestic product (GDP) also fell by a record 7.3% in the year that ended on March 31, 2021. The government has forecast 10.5% growth for 2021/2022 but a second wave of the pandemic has dented expectations and several economists have cut their forecasts.
Ahmad told NewsClick, “Over 80% of the village population depends on the employment in other cities and everyone returned to the village when the situation started worsening due to COVID-19. Since everyone comes from economically weaker backgrounds, many families had to take loans. I personally helped many of them. Now that the situation is going back to normal, they have started paying back the loans. But that has reduced their buying capacity and consumption of things like milk, curd, etc. has gone down to several folds.”