Lockdown and the Plight of Marginal People

Arup Kumar Sen

In India, more than 90 per cent of the working population are footloose people in the sense that they do not enjoy any security of livelihoods. They belong to the informal sector, and are the worst victims of COVID-19-induced lockdown policy followed by the State.

Very recently, a small field study done by Paban Mukhopadhyay has documented the plight of such marginal people in Subhasgram, located in South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. (See Nagarik Mancha Samayiki 16, August 27, 2020)

Samir Ghosh runs a small book/notebook shop near Subhasgram municipal market since 1994. The market was completely closed for four months. His four-member family now survives on the income of his wife, who is a government servant.

Others are not so fortunate. Madan Mondal has been selling fruits for the last 40 years near the Subhasgram railway station. His three-member family solely depends on his income, and they used to stay in a rented house in Subhasgram. As the business was suspended during the lockdown period and Mondal could not pay house rent, they were forced to go back to their distant home in the district. Now, as the local train service is suspended, it is difficult for Mondal to run the business, coming from the distant home. His small savings of Rs. 10,000 is exhausted. He does not know how to earn the livelihood of his family and meet the educational expenses of his daughter.

Mukesh Ram is a migrant from the Samastipur district of Bihar. Since 1983, he earns his livelihood from a small shoe-repairing shop adjacent to the Subhasgram railway station. He used to earn Rs. 200-250 per day before the outbreak of COVID-19. Mukesh ceased to earn any income in the last three months, and could not send any money to his family in Samastipur. He now survives on the small financial help given by some of his old customers. His family in Bihar survives solely on the small income of his wife as a midwife.

Annapurna, a 35-year old woman, used to earn reasonable income by taking care of children of a doctor family in South Kolkata and maintain her four-member family. As the local train service is suspended, she could not continue her job. She bought an old van rickshaw and repaired it for about Rs. 8,000, and now somehow earns livelihood of her family by moving around Subhasgram market/ railway station, selling vegetables.

There are others documented in the field report. The report bears testimony to the fact that the lockdown induced by COVID-19 has destabilised the livelihoods of marginal men and women.

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sep 13, 2020

Arup Kumar Sen

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