Coronavirus outbreak: Migrant workers struggle for food, say, 'We will die by the time government help comes'

Updated: Mar 31, 2020, 08:09 IST | Faizan Khan | Mumbai

Seven lakh migrant workers in the loom-town of Bhiwandi say they are struggling for food and many may not survive the 21-day lockdown if state doesn't act quickly

The power loom workers have had no source of income since the lockdown
The power loom workers have had no source of income since the lockdown

More than seven lakh migrant power loom workers in Bhiwandi, who had come here from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, are among those most affected due to the nationwide lockdown. The labourers claim they have not got any help from the government as is being claimed on television.

They said it is the locals and NGOs who are providing them with food once a day. The local MLA also said there has been no relief centre set up yet by the government, and the authorities concerned are still passing the buck to each other.

Bhiwandi, one of India's leading power loom hubs with more than 12 lakh centres, is facing a massive crisis due to the lockdown. Loom owners claim to have already paid their workers, and are unable to pay them any more due to the losses owing to the looms shutting down."We have suffered during demonetisation. The entire business was shut and we faced massive losses. We had only started recovering from that recently, when this lockdown happened. The labourers are now starving and there is no help from the government," said Aatif Ansari, a power loom owner.

A 42-year-old labourer who has come from Bihar and has been working with power looms for the past 10 years said he is going through a very hard time. "We are starving.

The only food we get is what the locals and NGOs give us once a day. I have six members in my family and I am the sole breadwinner. Everything that I had saved is finished.

We currently live in a 10x10 room and the government is talking about social distancing. How are we going to do that? We will all die by the time government's relief reaches us."

Mohammed Mukhtar, 49, a labourer from Jharkhand, has been working here for the past 15 years. He has 10 members in his family. "We cannot tell you what we are facing here. We are locked inside a room. If we step out the cops beat us.

The government has not arranged for any food for us. We are surviving only because of the kindness of the locals.

We have been eating one meal a day since March 19. I am unable to send money to my family in Jharkhand. If the situation does not change we will have no option but to leave for our hometown for our survival."

"We have been earning R8,000 to R10,000 per month since demonetisation. Things were just about coming back to normal when this lockdown happened. We have lost all hope. Only the locals are helping us. We are very grateful even for the single meal that they are bringing us. I don't know what will happen in the next two weeks.

Politicians come when they want votes but not when we genuinely need help," said Mohammed Kaleem Ansair, a labourer from UP. MLA from Samajwadi Party, Rais Shaikh, said there was no help from either the state or central governments. "I am personally trying to help these people [labourers] with the help of NGOs."

Mar 19
Day when locals, NGOs started feeding the workers

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