In March this year, the national lockdown was clamped and the operations of all private sectors were stopped. One exception being retail shops which opened now and then according to easing of official restrictions, from time to time. All other workers: private school teachers, school van drivers, auto drivers, employees of private banks and other private offices have lost their only jobs, though it may not be permanent. Earlier, these workers managed with the little savings they made, but now with five months having gone by, they have exhausted everything. Most employers did little to help them, as they said they were not officially capacitated. As a result, these unfortunate workers have been facing acute financial crisis.
Earlier this month, many of them had started selling their valuable possessions and things: mobile phones, gold, jewellery, whatever other things of value they had. They don’t find generous moneylenders willing to lend them. Some of them have taken up odd jobs like selling fish, and some have become small time peddlers of small wares. In the present society there is no room for supporting them. And their lives have been wrecked, the result of which is drinking. A few are also reported to be taking solace in drugs. Last month, a school van driver was caught for trying to break in and steal ATM booths.
This entire workforce, among them, some 10,000 private school teachers and an equal number of van drivers, are a now a forgotten tribe. No one cares how they are pulling on. But they are physically and mentally distressed, some cannot continue with their daily routine. They are having to cut corners in everything they are accustomed to do on everyday basis. Essential commodities are also incrementally expensive, and this has meant adding oil to the fire for them.
The society should have some arrangements for them, either in the form of allowing them loans by the richer sections or helping them. They are a part of the society and had contributed to its welfare, therefore it will be wrong to ignore them. If this great workforce turns against the society, it will not be for the good of the society or anybody’s future. Our society do not have charities, and other safety nets for this workforce who are now left to the mercy and generosity of local shops allowing them some credit. Sometimes loving friends help them.
There seems to be no light at the end of the dark tunnel. No one knows when we will be back to the pre-COVID days. In the absence of a furlough scheme as in the UK by which the workers are allowed to go leave but still enjoy 80 per cent of their wages, our huge workforce have no support and are adding to the number of unemployed people thereby increasing the poverty rate. The pandemic has increased the poverty levels, and many are dependent on the charities of local shops and help from relatives and friends. But for the PDS rice provided by the govt, many would have face starvation.
The primary concern of a huge section of our society has shifted to daily food only. Education of their children, arts, culture etc. have been literally abandoned. The levels of their anxiety and mental depression has increased. Households which were earlier proactive and well to do have even abandoned recharging their mobile phones. The financial statement of most households show a substantial deficits. Most of these workers belong to the service sector, but many in the retailing and manufacturing sector do better than them. In the retailing and manufacturing sector, there is compulsory buying.
There are a few alternative jobs for this workforce, and the only alternative sector is the retailing and manufacturing. But is not easy to set up a retailing business so soon. Employment avenues in the manufacturing industry of junk food are also not opened at the present time. So how will this entire workforce manage? There are no credible answers yet. They are only hoping that the sun will shine again. Their children are malnourished and often go to bed hungry.
Among this workforce are also includes cultural Artistes, like Pung yeiba, Nat eshei shakpa(pala) etc. Except for shradhas, no other ceremony has taken place during the last five months. At first, they thought it would be for a while and were even happy to have a holiday, but now they have started feeling the pinch. Shortage of cash has derailed their lives. Earlier, some food were donated by local MLA’s and other social workers but as it was banned, requiring it to be deposited in the food bank and then distributed through the district administration, things are dismal.
The mental distress of this workforce can be cured only if the material conditions improve. The fear of the virus has also increased their worries. Two in six leikais have become containment zones, and the choice between saving the economy or lives has put them in a state of perplexity. With no support scheme for them at the moment, they are idealess.
The writer is a freelance writer and journalist