Lockdown is no "Friend" to Assam's Poor Labourers in their Struggle for Survival

Lockdown is no "Friend" to Assam's Poor Labourers in their Struggle for Survival

An ex jail inmate sleeps underneath a truck amid the lockdown An ex jail inmate sleeps underneath a truck amid the lockdown

Guwahati, April 27, 2020:

For Dhiren, a migrant labourer from Bihar who came to Assam to earn a living, things took a dire turn when the nationwide lockdown was imposed. Dhiren, who is a barber by profession, says that food and fodder is hard to come by in this post-lockdown world as COVID cases continue to skyrocket.

ALSO READ: Darrangiri Banana Market, Asia’s Largest, also Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic

"I have come from Bihar. I have a saloon but it is closed. I live in rented premises; on top of that, I have to pay the shop's rent. My parents are also sick and I have to look after them also. I have a big family. I have bought rice, beaten rice but I cannot afford to pay the shopkeepers now", the father of two told Inside Northeast.

[caption id="attachment_57758" align="alignnone" width="660"] Dhiren with his two sons[/caption]

"Ever since the lockdown was announced, we are facing immense hardships. Shops are all cosed and we are surviving somehow. Feeding ourselves has become a difficulty. What we cook in the morning, we eat for dinner also", says Dhiren's wife Ganga, chiming in.

Ganga further adds that there are bills to be paid, but no income to pay them with. "There is difficulty in the study of the children -- we have to pay their tuition and school fees. We also have to foot the electricity bills, house rent, et al. Only if we work we will be able to pay", she says.

Story in Assamese:

Although relatives are calling them back home to their own village, Ganga says that they are even unable to afford travel expenses. "How can we go? There are four of us (in the family). Even if we could, we would not have been able to go back home."

Pariyal, a rickshaw puller from Bihar who is "stranded" in Assam, spins a similar tale. Earnings, he says, have died down, and he has no money to buy food either. He laments that "everyone" has left, and he has been separated from his wife, who is in his native Bihar. "How can I go? I cannot go back. Everyone went back, but I was left behind", he says.

[caption id="attachment_57759" align="alignnone" width="660"] Pariyal left his wife behind in the 'desh'[/caption]

Now, he survives on food distributed by CRPF personnel to the poor and needy near the Guwahati Railway Station that has become his home and refuge. However, the rickshaw puller hopes that he will be able to return to his home once the lockdown is lifted.

Meanwhile, the suffering is not only limited to those who have migrated in from other states. Fate has also caused some of Assam's own to be caught in unfortunate situations amid the lockdown.

ALSO READ: Sikkim Prepares for Influx of 1800 Students & Others Stranded Elsewhere amid Lockdown

Joiram Das, who was released from jail amid the bid to "decongest" India's overcrowded jails amid the lockdown, found himself roaming from one place to another after his release from the Central Jail in Guwahati, along with 52 other inmates. "We went to the Geetanagar Police Station, and police asked us to return home. Then, I went to my rented quarter, but my family had already left for Jorhat before the lockdown was announced. I spent a night at my younger daughter's house in Hengerabari."

[caption id="attachment_57760" align="alignnone" width="660"] Joiram spends his days underneath the truck and nights in auto-rickshaws[/caption]

Das, however, was evicted by the landlord. "He said that if I stay there, it would be difficult, as I was not checked (for coronavirus), although I was. He said that if I stay there, they might catch the disease and things will turn bad. He asked me to make arrangements elsewhere." The roving man then made his way to the Guwahati Railway Station, where he lives and sleeps. "When it rains, I live in autos the entire night", he said.

An Inside Northeast team discovered the man sleeping underneath a truck, a place that he seems to have taken an especial liking for.

Plight of Migrants in Assam?

The coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world leaving death and destruction in its wake, and India has also been affected by the contagion to a great degree. The lockdown has been extended till May 3. Because of the lockdown, the common man has been left feeling the heat of hopelessness and despair as the economy continues to dry out.

Many migrant labourers who had come to Assam seeking employment opportunities have been left stranded with no options of income.

Moreover, it is no secret that a large chunk of the population is battling starvation as the food supply chain has dried up and reports of goods being sold at exorbitant prices abound. In Assam, the Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna has announced the presence of as many as 1,641 migrant labourers. Asserting that the problem of migrant labourers is a "big issue", the Chief Secretary said that people will be allowed to move to their respective hometowns for one time, further adding that about 9,000 or so people are stranded in other districts amid the lockdown.

However, with the lockdown rules still firmly in place, what happens to the migrants who are stranded and wish to return to their own states?

Migrant labourers, be it in Assam or Kanyakumari, continue to feel the heavy blow of the lockdown that has paralyzed their lives. Tensions came to the fore in Mumbai – the epicentre of the virus – when disregarding Government rules, thousands thronged to demand an instantaneous end to their plight. Stuck between hunger and the COVID-19, thousands congregated in Bandra and demanded that they be sent back home.

Amid the doom and gloom of the current economic scenario, several migrants, desperate to go back to their homelands, have breathed their last due to fatigue or sickness.

If the suffering of the likes of Dhiren and Parimal is anything to go by, these migrants must be facing truly uncertain times, and only time will tell if the easing of the lockdown will once again return "normalcy" to their lives.

Support Inside Northeast (InsideNE), an independent media platform that focuses on Citizen-centric stories from Northeast India that are surprising, inspiring, cinematic and emotionally relevant.

Readers like you make Inside Northeast’s work possible.

To support our brand of fearless and investigative journalism, support us HERE.


The Inside Northeast app HERE for News, Views, and Reviews from Northeast India.

Do keep following us for news on-the-go. We deliver the Northeast.

Edited By: Admin
Published On: Apr 25, 2020