Coronavirus: A Day of Lockdown Inside a Shelter Home

“If I don’t die due to coronavirus, I will definitely die of the hunger,”

said Deepak, a daily wage laborer sitting under Akshardham flyover. He is 32 years old and is a father of four children. His family stays in Purnia district in Bihar. He can neither return to his village nor afford to pay for shelter without work. He is one of the many who have lost their jobs and roofs from over their head when the companies were shut following orders of the central government to practice 21-day lockdown as a measure to curb the spread of the pandemic. 

In the first week of lockdown, National Capital Region witnessed an exodus of migrants laborers, many walking hundreds of kilometers to their hometowns. The Uttar Pradesh and Delhi government had announced that they will ferry these workers to their hometown in state transport buses. Thousands of daily wage workers gathered outside Anand Vihar Bus Terminal, in the hope of getting a seat in a bus back to their home. Those who could not board buses were forced to return to their respective homes. The Delhi Government has set up 111 shelters homes specifically for migrant workers rendered homeless due to lockdown and promised to provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I spent a day witnessing how a day unfolds at one of the shelters home in the capital.

One such shelter home near Akshardham is basically a relief camp, which has a capacity of fifteen beds. Initially, two persons had to share one bed but later some of them were moved to other camps. The cleanliness of the camp is ensured by the people living in the camp themselves. They want the government to disinfect their surroundings once in a couple of days.

 

The central government’s claims about making India Open Defecation free should be reassessed as men and women have to go to nearby bushes for excretion and take bath in open. The PWD office is the only supply of water to this relief camp and clean drinking water is a privilege, which they cannot afford.

 

Deepak Mandal used to work and live in premises of brick manufacturing unit in Sohna, Gurgaon. As his factory was closed during the lockdown and with no other place to go, Deepak walked to Anand Vihar Bus Terminal in hopes of taking a bus to his hometown. He was caught by police on his way and sent to the relief camp. He is staying here since 29th March. He says the living condition is neither hygienic nor comfortable and he wants to reach his hometown. He is determined to leave on foot even if he has to walk all the way to Purnia 1100 kilometers away from Delhi.

 

The people living in the shelter home have complained about irregularity in food distribution. The first meal of the day from the Delhi Government reaches only after 1 PM. They save chapatis from the dinner to eat with pickle and water for breakfast.

 

Vishnu Prasad lost all his fingers except a thumb on right hand in an accident at the factory. He was walking to his son’s home in Faridabad from Sarita Vihar when policemen asked him to return. His requests went unheard and then was placed in the relief camp in Akshardham.

 

Ashok (name changed) was walking with Deepak from Sohna to ISBT Anand Vihar. His slippers broke on the way and he doesn’t have enough money to buy a new one. Most of the people living in this camp have total savings of less than Rs 250 with them.

 

Few citizens have taken upon themselves to feed the homeless people. These are a crucial support for the migrants as it saves them from starving to some extent.

 

Vehicle carrying free food provided by Delhi Government arrives at 1:15 pm. It is often their ‘first meal’ of the day that the government provides.

 

The food provided by the government is rice with lentils (Dal) or boiled vegetables. The people distributing food are not provided with any gloves. The risk of the spread of pandemic through any of these workers is quite possible.

 

Somesh (name changed) belongs to Bihar and drives the vehicle carrying food for the homeless. He was uninformed about the lockdown when he was asked to deliver food for the shelter home. Many like him have to work in fields during harvest season apart from working in Delhi. He is worried about the time of harvest and his crops in his village.

 

With no water supply at the shelter home, the people inside the camp have to arrange water for themselves from the nearby PWD office.

 

As temperature rises, people in the shelter-home takes refuge under a flyover and wait for the sun to go down.

 

Bihar Government issued an application to financially help residents of Bihar who are stranded in other states. All those people don’t have access to smartphones on which this app works. Also, the registration is tiresome as the servers keep crashing and most of the people never had access to education which further makes them difficult to understand the process of installing an app and registering their names for the benefits.

 

The people living in the shelter home grumbled about mosquitoes due to bushes and drains nearby. They burn the grass to create smoke to deter mosquitoes and demand their surroundings to be sanitized and disinfected.

Traumatized enough which the lockdown and policies in the city, Deepak said that if he manages to reach home, he will never return to Delhi looking for the job again. Others are desperate to reach their hometown even if it means walking all the way back.

Sidharth Shankar
Sidharth Shankar

Videos and Photos are all his part at Qweed. Photojournalist, obsessed over images. The DSLR guy you are most likely to ask for your profile picture.

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