Many restaurants and hotels have resumed services with reduced capacity. They have not re-hired workers they laid off during lockdown.

Migrant workers amid the coronavirus pandemic in India
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 09:01

Traffic along Tank Bund Road is proof that the coronavirus-induced lockdown is nearly at its end in Hyderabad and that the city is limping back to some semblance of normalcy. Sugunakar Reddy watches the traffic move from Telugu Talli park, where he is waiting for vehicles which come seeking labourers for farm or construction work. 

38-year-old Sugunakar has been living inside the park since March 24 when he was laid off as a waiter by the hotel he was working in.

“The hotel reopened when lockdown (rules) relaxed but the owner didn't give me the job back. No one eats at hotels anymore, there is no need for waiters,” says Sugunakar, a decades experience. 

“When I left the job, I had Rs 3,000 with me. I am now down to my last Rs 3,” he says, showing his empty wallet. The man from Bhadradri Kothagudem district of Telangana doesn’t have a phone and has no one who can come to his rescue.

“I will make some money, I just need Rs 400 to get to my village,” he says with hope..

TNM came across several men resting at the Telugu Talli park at noon on Monday, most from districts across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, a few from West Bengal. Almost all of them were previously employed at the numerous tea shops, Irani cafes, catering services and restaurants across Hyderabad. But like Sugunakar, they have found themselves unemployed and without a roof over their heads, days after the lockdown. 

Telangana is under a ‘relaxed’ lockdown till June 31.

“It depends on the hotel owner. Some allowed employees to stay at the hotel during the lockdown. My employer fired me and asked me to vacate,” says Sugunakar. 

Jeevan from Andhra Pradesh has also been living at the park since the start of lockdown after being laid off from work. His efforts to go home proved futile.

“People from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states left in trains, but the Andhra government didn't let us through so I got stuck here. The hotel where I worked earlier now employs only one head chef, counter manager and a delivery person. No one else has been hired back,” he adds. 

Laid-off restaurant workers have managed to survive the last two months with the help of food distribution undertaken by non-profits and subsidised food provided by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). However, those depending on the food provided twice-a-day by the GHMC say they were informed of the service ending on June 31.

“Since the lockdown (was) relaxed, the non-profits stopped providing food. So now we get food only from the GHMC. Will it be possible to extend the food service beyond June 31?” asks Ramu, another youth from Andhra Pradesh who was laid off from his job at a catering service. 

For those laid off, work comes in the form of construction work and farm work. Some, like Jeevan, hesitate to work in the construction field. 

“A lot of the north Indian workers went back home, so there is work in that sector. But the only problem is most of us have never worked in construction. The other job is feeding cows at farms, but that work comes once in four days. So for three days, there is no work and no money,” adds Jeevan.

Most men are unable to return back home due to the fund crunch. But Mahesh Gopi from Karnataka, says, “The men will not tell you. The truth is, many of us here can't go back home. We are not welcome at our homes. This is the only place for us.”

Monsoon has arrived in Hyderabad and when it rains, these workers cramp themselves together under the Telugu Thalli flyover for respite. At night, they begin their walk to Narayanguda where they sleep under the shade of shops, only to return to the Telugu Thalli flyover with hopes of finding dignity in their labour.


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