Even as more and more Indians are being tested positive for the novel coronavirus with each passing day, several individuals are refusing to restrict their movement—or stay at home—despite being urged by the government to do so. Social distancing is crucial for controlling the spread of the infection that has claimed third life in the country on Tuesday and left many more dead across the world.
However, it should be noted that a large chunk of the people who are stepping out—accused of not being cautious enough—comprises daily wage earners.
Kishan Dev, 50, an auto driver in Delhi, where several cases of the virus have been confirmed, is forced to make a difficult choice: whether to accept rides or stay at home for his and his family’s safety. He chooses the former.
“Bimari ki tension nahi hai saheb, khaane ki hai,” he jested with the help of a Bollywood film dialogue. The matter of the fact, nonetheless, remains that there is no alternative available for him owing to his financial responsibilities.
“I used to earn about Rs 600 a day earlier. Now, with markets getting closed, and people choosing not to come out because of the disease, it is difficult to make even half of that amount,” Dev said. “If this is how it goes, I’ll surely die of hunger. I won’t need the disease.”
Similar were the hardships that now seem to be mounting for Dheeraj Thakur, 48, who works as a security guard in one of the many parking lots looked after by Delhi’s Municipal Corporation.
Thakur, who gets commission from his contractor for every vehicle that is parked in the lot, is now mulling return to his village in Bihar. “There are almost zero parkings in a day now. The government has ordered closures. They should have thought about us as well. How are we going to make a living? If everything’s shut and there’s no work, how will our families survive?”
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government on Monday decided to shut gyms, nightclubs, spas and not allow any gathering of more than 50 people till March 31. A similar response to the coronavirus pandemic can be observed elsewhere, with states, metropolitan cities reportedly entering the ‘shutdown mode’.
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For those, whose employment pertains to providing service and which involves their contact with the mobile population, the recently imposed restrictions can not be of much help. What’s more is that most of them have been forced into a vulnerable position and are bound to suffer the economic consequences of the shutdown.
Ravi Kashyap, a gig worker who works with Shadowfax, a delivery platform, says he has no choice but to go out and work—collect and deliver—even more so now, as the number of orders has decreased these days. “In my 12-hour work day, I complete 30 orders. That means I interact at least 60 times in a day with people who could be carrying the virus. The company has provided no masks or sanitisers. No medical or health insurance. If I am tested positive, I don’t even think that I’ll get paid for the days when I won’t work,” said the 33-year old.
Kashyap, predominantly delivers food for Swiggy and Zomato, but is not technically employed by them as the job has been outsourced to Shadowfax. He is one among many who are and have been forced to work despite being sick in the past. “I am aware of the coronavirus. I wash hands at whichever restaurant allows. My earnings are getting affected these days and that poses a bigger challenges to me” he said.
Suggesting a “slowdown” in the domestic economic growth as a “second round of effects” of the coronavirus pandemic, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das reportedly said in a press conference on Tuesday that COVID-19 can affect economic activity in India.
“The government must intervene and work towards socially protecting these workers… these type of situations clearly require the government to provide social protections, and various subsidies to workers whose earnings are getting kicked,” K R Shyam Sundar, professor of human resource management at Jamshedpur’s XLRI, said, while speaking to NewsClick on Sunday.
Referring to the fact that this very Narendra Modi-led BJP government has waived corporate taxes earlier to the tune of Rs 1.45 lakh crore, reportedly to stimulate the crisis-ridden economy, Sundar asked if that can happen, why not social protection arrangements for millions of workers.
“Here you have a situation of existential risks. Can the finance minster or the prime minister or the health minister not create a special notification providing all kinds of necessities of life to these workers?” he questioned. “This may not even require 1.45 lakh crore,” he added.
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