Workers of shops selling essential services such as fuel and medicine, and others in the lower-income groups either stop going to work or commute with difficulty.

Kumari
news Coronavirus Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 17:48

On Wednesday morning, Kumari somehow got her young son to wake up before 5 a.m. He was to take her on a scooter from Vattappara to the city of Thiruvananthapuram, 14 km away. It couldn’t be later, her shift at the petrol pump began at 6 a.m.

“That is two days in a row, he may not agree to do it every day,” says the middle-aged mother sitting at the pump, with a new red handkerchief wrapped around her mouth. Her work hours are from 6 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. The lockdown due to coronavirus has the usually busy fuel station wear an empty look, barring the white fuel dispensers and the women workers in blue.  

Kumari, like many others in the low-income work groups, took the bus to work. When the buses stopped running, she first took a shared auto rickshaw with a few others. When the autos too stopped – they are to run only for emergency services – Kumari began relying on her son.

“It’s not that we want to leave homes either. But they wouldn’t pay if we didn’t come. Some of the workers, coming from faraway places, have not been able to come and they are going to lose wages,” she says. The petrol pump employees were also working without the protective masks or gloves. “Even this handkerchief I am wearing now, I got only a day before,” Kumari says.

After the Prime Minister’s declaration of a lockdown on Monday evening, there was the panic rush to the petrol pump, like in the rest of the country. “The rush has been so much that Mercy here said she wouldn’t come the next day, she was so tired and on the verge of tears.”

But Mercy came, she had a two-wheeler. So did Jayarani, another employee. But Sreekumari, yet another employee, had to walk an hour, all the way from Kannettumukku.

Even before the lockdown, some workers chose to walk to their places of work. “Ever since the fear of the virus had spread, I was wary about taking the bus, where so many people coming from all sorts of places would be crowded together. I’d rather walk in the sun,” says Sujatha, a domestic worker in Edapazhanji, Thiruvananthapuram. Sujatha has now stopped going to houses altogether. “It’s not safe,” says Sujatha, following the news up to date.


Devadasan

Sujatha’s is not one of the essential services listed by the government, one that will continue to function during the lockdown. But not going to work would mean no income, and that, she cannot afford. Devadasan, a security guard in one of the city’s apartment buildings, does not make a big deal of it. He was dropped by a relative one day, and since then, has been staying the nights at the building instead of going back home. No complaints for the middle-aged man, who has somehow easily adapted to the new situation with a pair of gloves and a mask the flat’s association has given him.

Nearly all of them understand the situation, the need for a lockdown and the need for buses to stop running. But that is not going to take away the reality – if they don’t show up for work some way or another, they don’t get paid. And that is now a reality that’s scarier than the fast spreading coronavirus for many who depend on the daily wages to run families. 

Also read: The ‘good quarantiners’: Stories of Indians making sure they stay safe