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With lockdown extentions adding to their woes, dream city turns into nightmare for daily wagers

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Press Trust of India  |  Noida 

His regular income reduced to nil, Raghu is working harder than ever to make ends meet but is still compelled to sleep on an empty stomach. With additional pressure from his landlord to pay rental dues before he can go back to his family in Jharkhand, the place that was a city of dreams for the daily wager till just two months ago has now turned into a nightmare.

Though many of his fellow migrant workers left for their native places soon after the lockdown was announced in March, Raghu, in his 30s, stayed back here in the hope that the situation would soon improve.

But subsequent extensions of the lockdown kept adding to his misery.

After losing employment as a daily wage labourer and not having any savings when the lockdown came into force, Raghu said he started doing multiple odd jobs like gardening, sweeping, getting groceries for people to earn money and arrange two meals a day. But there was neither sufficient work nor money.

He said he borrowed Rs 1,000 from a "bangla wala sahib to buy food and medicines. The sahib is now asking for that money as many activities have reopened and he thinks I have the means to pay him back now," said Raghu. Providing additional distress, his landlord is also demanding rent for the house where he stays here.

Raghu now feels that if not of coronavirus, he will die of hunger if he stays in this city anymore. "I have spent many nights awake in the last two months out of hunger. It is also the worry of not seeing my family back in Jharkhand that is keeping me up at night. I just want to go back home," said Raghu.

"I have started seeing the city in a different light now. While it was a city of dreams for me till early this year, now it is nothing more than a nightmare that I want to escape," he said.

Suresh, a rickshaw puller who hails from Champaran in Bihar, took up any job he could find in the last two months to provide for his daughters.

"Dusting houses, cleaning, sweeping, taking dogs out for walks or getting groceries for families who were too scared to step out. I tried my best. I did it all but still I earned just 10 per cent of what I would earlier make," said Suresh, a resident of Aghapur village in Noida sector 41.

"I have four daughters who all study here. Schools were closed but I still didn't leave for my village as I didn't want to disturb their studies. But now I do not have money to even feed them. There is no point in living here anymore," he said.

But he has been asked by his landlord to pay the rent he owes for his small accommodation before leaving. "I have paid Rs 1,000 and need Rs 500 more to clear my dues. Then I will leave this city and never return," he said.

Raju, a 42-year-old rickshaw puller here, has also been working much harder than before to arrange money to get out of this "big city" soon.

He starts his day at 5.30 am and stays out in the streets with his cycle-rickshaw till 10 pm but there are not enough customers to ferry due to the lockdown.

When he told the owner of the house where he stays about his decision to leave for his hometown Bulandshahr, Raju was asked to first clear the pending two months' rent of Rs 3,000.

"I told my house owner that I will pay him in instalments as soon as I find work in my home town but he did not agree," he said.

But since he has barely earned anything in the last two months due to the lockdown, Raju is not sure how he can now arrange the money in a short span of time.

"I just want to leave but I have been asked to pay the amount before leaving. Earlier, on the government's directive the owner of my home did not ask for rent but when he saw a number of people going back to their villages, migrants like us were pressured to pay our rent before leaving," Raju said.

India is presently in the midst of one of the biggest reverse migrations of thousands of people who started returning to their home towns in view of loss of livelihood during the ongoing lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The nationwide lockdown, initially imposed from March 25 to April 14, has been extended thrice and will last at least till May 31. It aims to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that has claimed 3,435 lives and infected 1,12,359 people in the country so far.

India's economy has been severely hit by the lockdown. Thousands of migrant workers across the country are walking back to their homes hundreds of kilometers away due to lack of transport facilities after losing their means to livelihood.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, May 21 2020. 17:30 IST
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