It is a ghost town… people are cooped up in their homes. The young tech-savvy kids are locked in their air-conditioned rooms trying to make ‘quarantine content’ for their Instagram followers. Meanwhile, their parents are busy forwarding borderline racist jokes on WhatsApp about the ‘China virus’. Life in lockdown is a seemingly well-oiled machine.
But, not for the daily wagers, who wait under the scorching sun every day to earn a meagre amount. They are your auto-rickshaw drivers, construction workers, landless agricultural labourers, hawkers and many others. Whether they go to sleep with a full stomach or not, depends on the amount of work they get in a day. On a lucky day, they might have Rs.300-500 for two meals in a day for their entire family. With the announcement of complete lockdown, they are now left with no prospects of income. While they had no cash to pay rent for their dingy shared rooms in the cities, there was no public transport that would help them reach their native towns. The hottest debate on social media right now is how the government has left our ‘migrant’ workers in the lurch. In what is being called the ‘long march’, thousands have been walking back home to their villages, where they can at least find comfort and be assured of daily meals. In an already bleak job market, the COVID-19-triggered curfew across the country could not have come at a more inopportune time for the labourers.
In the meantime, some governments have realised the gravity of the situation. While Delhi has pledged a cash support of Rs.5,000, Uttar Pradesh has announced Rs.1,000 for the daily wage labourers. As per the UP Minimum Wages Notification of October 2019, the minimum per day wage for unskilled labourers is Rs.318.42; for semi-skilled it is Rs.350.26 and for skilled labourers it is Rs.392.35. So, how will long will a one-time transfer of thousand rupees last them? And, what lies ahead? With uncertainty looming, there is an urgent need for a blanket announcement by central government to help these daily wagers in distress.