Millions jobless and fear going hungry as they desperately wait for government help amid world’s largest lockdown.
Like an estimated 100 million others, Kumar is a migrant worker. He left his home village in Bihar, India’s poorest state, seven years ago “for a better life” and “good education” for his kids.
Before India’s 21-day lockdown began on March 25, the 38-year-old earned – on a good day – the equivalent of $4 a day cycling his rickshaw, while his wife cooked and cleaned as a domestic worker.
Now with all activity except essential services halted in the country of 1.3 billion people, Kumar can’t work, and his wife’s employers wouldn’t even let her in the building.
“They feel she will give them this disease,” he said.
Their home in the city of Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the capital is one of dozens of single-room structures in rows with shared toilets and no running water.
It is among the many potential Coronavirus breeding grounds that have experts alarmed.
“We store water in buckets for drinking and cooking. We can’t waste it to wash [our] hands every time,” Kumar said.
The situation is similarly grim for Ram Kumar Gautam, hundreds of miles away in the Mumbai neighbourhood of Dharavi, India’s biggest slum.
The 30-year-old left his home in the northern city of Lucknow when he was just 17.
Until the lockdown, he used to send his family as much as he could from the $9 daily wage he earned in a factory making aluminium foil.
“How will I send money home or pay back loans? The future looks scary,” he told AFP.
Gautam said he would have starved but for the generosity of his employer, who was looking after him and other stranded employees.
Better to starve
The fear of going hungry sparked an exodus by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and their families, many on foot, back to their villages last month.
Some perished along the way.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) said this week that 400 million Indians working in the informal economy risk falling deeper into poverty during the crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has announced direct cash transfers and food subsidies to help some 800 million people.