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Lockdown Blues: Thousands In Delhi Battle Hunger Pangs As Government, NGOs Effort Fall Short

Coronavirus outbreak and a subsequent lockdown has raised a question on the survival of slum dwellers, daily wagers and migrant labourers who are now dependent on the government and NGOs for two square meals

Lockdown Blues: Thousands In Delhi Battle Hunger Pangs As Government, NGOs Effort Fall Short

New Delhi: As Delhiites take to cooking and posting photos of scrumptious-looking cuisines online, there are thousands in the national capital who are forced to spend their days in the hope of two square meals and end up surviving solely on water, even as the Delhi government claims to have arrangements in place to feed over 10 lakh people amid the ongoing lockdown. For dwellers of Shram Vihar slum, a settlement of 200-odd families near Shaheen Bagh in South East Delhi, non-government organisations (NGOs) are their last hope for food as most of them had exhausted their ration within days of the lockdown being imposed.

An NGO and an individual distribute cooked food mostly ‘khichdi’ two times a day – during afternoon and evening – but they give food to one member of every family no matter how big it is. I have five people in my family. How can five people eat from the amount of food meant for one person? lamented ragpicker Khurshida Parveen, a native of Muzaffarpur in Bihar.

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Khurshida Parveen often has to let the children share the food and remain content with just water herself.

Earlier, some mini-trucks used to come here to distribute food but none of them have visited us in the last one week, she said.

Meena Devi, in her 50s, who hails from Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, said, “My husband is a construction worker. He used to earn Rs 300 – 400 a day but since everything is closed due to this disease, he is sitting at home and we are totally dependent on others’ sympathy.”

Migrant labourers, daily wagers, rag pickers are the worst-hit sections of the society with the shutting down of industries and restriction on public movement due to the lockdown which has been imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Several NGOs, individuals and state governments are trying their best to address the problems of the marginalised section of the society but their efforts seem to be falling short.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been insisting that his government has the capacity to provide food to over 10 lakh poor people in the city. The Delhi government has been distributing food in numerous government schools and night shelters since the migrant labourers’ crisis began later last month.

The Delhi government provided food to 6.5 lakh people at around 1500 distribution centres across the city on Saturday, according to a statement issued by it.

We do not know of any government school or shelter home nearby where we can get food. Even if there is any, we can not make it there as police do not allow us to exit our settlement, said Hamida Khatoon, who came to Delhi from Murshidabad in West Bengal.

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Reacting on the matter, Delhi Food and Supplies Minister Imran Hussain said, “This matter has come to our knowledge through the media. I have instructed the District Magistrate to provide food in the camp as soon as possible. Our disaster management committee takes action as soon as any such case comes into the light. We will also look as to why the police are not allowing them go out for food.”

However, food is not the problem that the slum-dwellers have to deal with, lack of access to medical facilities and landlords demands of rent have added to their plight as they desperately wait for the lockdown to end.

Lying on a cot, Rajo Devi, 58, has been crying with pain ever since her backbone was injured 15 days ago. “Ambulance took me to a government hospital where doctors examined me and gave me some medicines. Now, neither we have medicine nor money,” she said.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak: Delhi Providing Food To Over 15,000 Homeless People Through Its Shelters Amid Lockdown

Doctors had told us to buy a medical belt to tie around her waist but we do not have money to buy it as houses where I used to work have forbidden me from coming until the situation normalises, said Maya, Rajjo’s daughter in law.

Asked what precautions they are taking to protect themselves from COVID-19, the slum dwellers said their priority is arranging food.

The virus will come to us only if we survive the hunger, said another slum-dweller, a native of Bihar’s Muzaffarpur.

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