“We don’t expect anything. We just want our livelihood back to live with dignity again,” said 40-year-old Gyanwati, a slum dweller on the border of Kangra towards Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh.
She echoes the feeling of over 25 families in a cluster of slums in the area, who find themselves the victim of circumstances and are struggling to manage with meagre cash in hand after they lost their livelihood with one stroke after Covid-19 lockdown on 24 March.
These slum dwellers, mostly illiterate, came to the state from Moradabad more than a decade back and do the digging work and other petty jobs in agriculture farms or other projects based on their individual capacities.
“We work on daily wages. However, since the lockdown, we are stuck and have lost our livelihood. The local villagers gave us ration twice, the latest 15 days back, which included few kilograms of rice, wheat flour, 250 grams of pulses and a Kg each of onion and potato to every family. We have to purchase essential commodities like milk for children and many other needs from the market. We are now running out of cash. If the lockdown is extended further, it will increase our problems,” said Jagdish, 25.
He said the people in the slums are virtually dependent on the villagers for their survival right now. “We don’t want to live like. We may be earning less, but that’s our money,” he said.
The slum dwellers share the story with thousands of migrant labourers working in Himachal Pradesh in agriculture, horticulture fields, construction works and other development projects.
Most of these people have been living in different districts of the state, including some interior pockets, for years along with their families. Their roots may be in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand or Bihar, but a number of them prefer working in the peaceful state of Himachal Pradesh and shift from one place to another in HP for greener pastures. Even in lockdown, a good number of them have stayed back. Most of them are unorganised workers, who are not registered.
With six districts (out of total 12) of Himachal Pradesh, including Kangra, Hamirpur, Una, Solan, Sirmaur and Chamba reporting Covid-19 positive cases and pockets in them becoming hotspots for coronavirus, the government is neither able to start routine activity so that they get back to work, nor extend financial assistance to these people. The state has so far reported 40 cases from these districts, including one death.
In the hour of crisis, however, the NGOs and even administration have been helping the poor daily wagers and migrants (who have lost their livelihood) with ration items as a part of social commitment.
“We have come so far looking for work and we have a habit of working hard to make both ends meet. Every adult, including females in our families work. But right now, there is no other option but to look to others or the government for help in Covid-19 lockdown and curfew since 24 March in Himachal,” some migrants in Shimla district lamented.