Suddenly, Santosh was on the road with an empty pocket but a stomach to fill. He has not had a full meal for one week or so. He is totally dependent on food packets distributed by individual donors or government. But their supply was not regular
Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India
SANTOSH is a street vendor who sells bananas in Bhangel, a small semi-urban neighborhood in UP’s Noida. But that was his story until lockdown was announced on March 24. Ever since, he had confined himself to his rented room as he had no work to do and nowhere to go.
Forty days later, a new chapter opened in his life. Early in the morning of May 2, his landlord asked him to vacate his room at once. He had not paid rent for March and April as he had no money. To compensate it the landlord seized his mobile phone which he had bought for Rs 10,000 just before the lockdown came into force.
Suddenly, Santosh was on the road with an empty pocket but a stomach to fill. He has not had a full meal for one week or so. He is totally dependent on food packets distributed by individual donors or government. But their supply was not regular.
In a hopeless situation like this, one would remember only one thing: his home, which in his case is 150 km away in a village of UP’s Aligarh district. But he neither has money, nor can he afford a transport service. So, he began his journey on foot.
When I spotted him on Surajpur-Kasna Road on May 2, Santosh had covered nearly 10 km. He was desperately signaling every vehicle passing by him. I gave him lift in my car, a gesture which is n not advisable in times of coronavirus. But sometimes a situation compels you to give up precaution. Of late, I have faced this compulsion number of times.
My idea was he would get down at Pari Chowk, a usual destination for onward journey in Greater Noida. But a casual chat with him gave me the feeling that he was hungry. Since I was going to a community kitchen which some of my friends are running for free distribution of food packets, I decided to feed him before letting him go.
At the kitchen, before taking his first bite, Santosh broke down. This was his first meal in the last 24 hours, he told me later. Next came the question of his onward journey. His village was more than 130 km from the place we were sitting at. Some of my friends got emotional. They started offering money. But money was not a solution. There was no transport, and no permission even if someone volunteered to drop him at his village. Despite our good intentions, we could not help him further. We left him to his fate, hoping someone would come to his rescue on way to his home.
While announcing lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an appeal to employers not to sack their employees and stop their salaries. Apparently, some of the employers heeded to his appeal by half. I met four employees of a pipe factory in Begumpur neighbourhood of Greater Noida who have not been sacked but have not been paid either.
The employees belonging to Kishanganj in Bihar told me they were paid one tenth of their March salary (Rs 1,000 each out of Rs 10,000 monthly). That’s all. No salary for April, so far. Factory owners of Noida have already said in television interviews that they would not pay April salary even if the government sends them to jail.
But the employees I spoke to have been asked by the manager of the factory not to go home as their services would be required once the lockdown is over. How are they managing? “We spent whatever little money we had. Now every day we go out looking for food packets being distributed by members of civil society. Sometimes we get, sometimes we don’t,” they told me.
At least one of them informed me that he had got money from home. How? Through Paytm, he said. One or two migrant workers at other places in Greater Noida also told me they have got money from home. I am just wondering how tough it would be for their family members back home to make such arrangement.
Meanwhile, I called the four factory employees on May 15, more than 10 days after I met them first. Their factory had not opened. But the manager had told them to be ready as preparations were on to open the factory. What about salary? Not yet. Even a threat to go home has not worked on the manager, they said. Will they resume work? “We have no option,” they replied in unison.