Report highlights workers’ suffering during lockdown

Published : March 27, 2020 17:39 IST

Workers leaving for their hometowns from Bengaluru after the lockdown was announced on March 24. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

A report published by Maraa, a Bengaluru-based media and arts collective that runs a newspaper called Bevaru (which means ‘sweat’ in Kannada) for workers in the city, has highlighted the problems of workers in the city since the nationwide lockdown on March 24. They include construction workers, labourers working on the Bengaluru Metro construction sites, sex workers, domestic workers, garment workers, and pourakarmikas (garbage handlers). The report states that while some sectors of the city’s population can afford to work from home, “a large section of our population is caught in the crossfire between the threat of the virus, exploitative contractors, inadequate support from the government and public apathy and indifference” and recommends that immediate relief should be provided by the State government.

The report has been prepared on the basis of conversations with workers and consists of many poignant testimonies. A construction labourer is quoted as saying, “We have not eaten since morning, since we are worried how we will manage for these 21 days. Work is life for us, we don’t know any other way. There is no access to drinking water, we are drinking the water that is used for construction in our site. Even if we are hungry it is okay, but we want to return home.” Many of the construction labourers in Bengaluru, who live from one weekly wage to the next, are from the north-eastern part of Karnataka and have been left forlorn with no advance wages and means to return to their homes.

Workers who are involved in metro-related work are from different parts of north and central India. Describing the conditions of the workers who have been unable to return home, the report states: “A labour colony is located in a rented house, there are about 10 rooms in the house. There are 150 workers living there at the moment.” While strictures on preventing the spread of virus emphasise social distancing, it does not say how poor workers like these, who are more concerned about where they will get food in the next few days, should prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Many sex workers who are HIV positive have been left marooned without access to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) medicine. Domestic workers, who are unable to go to their place of work, are not being paid salaries for the days that they are missing. With many of them dependent on their meagre monthly wages, they wonder how they will provide food for their families. The only section of workers who are freely moving about doing their work are the contractual pourakarmikas, considering their indispensability for the city’s hygiene and sanitation. But the high-risk conditions in which they work bring back to the fore their long-held demand to increase their wages to Rs.15,000.

The report has made many recommendations to alleviate the plight of workers in the city, including the provision of free ration and clean drinking water immediately. While the Central government has announced a special financial package of Rs.1.7 lakh crore for the poor, the report states that it does not take into account the plight of workers in the informal economy.

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