Maktumbe M.D., who lives in a slum colony in Rachenahalli, has been anxious about how she will feed her family during the Covid-19 lockdown. “My husband used to get paid once a week. That’s when we would go buy food. For the last two weeks, nobody’s been paid and we haven’t bought rations,” said Maktumbe, a 37-year-old homemaker, when we met 10 days after Bengaluru city shut down. Her husband is a commercial painter; he usually earned around 3,500 per week, but hasn’t found work since the lockdown began on March 25.
The couple, who have three children, migrated to Bengaluru 10 years ago looking for work. They came from Talikota (locally also called Talikoti) town in Karnataka’s Vijayapura (formerly Bijapur) district. The family depends on the payment that Maktumbe’s husband, Moulasab Dodamani, received every Sunday. “We bought food items once a week – five kilos of rice, one kilo oil, dal, and so on – and manage our lives. That’s stopped now. We are not allowed to go anywhere. We want to step out for food.”
When we met on April 4, the residents of the colony of migrant daily-wage workers in north Bengaluru spoke about various hardships. None of them are eligible to receive the government-subsidised foodgrains promised under the union finance minister’s relief package. Many don’t possess a ration card. Some do, but it is registered on their home address in their village, explained Manikyamma, 30, originally from Raichur district in north Karnataka. “Those cards don’t work in Bengaluru,” she said.
“We are struggling now without work. There is a lot of difficulty. We have children, we have to pay rent, how are we supposed to do that?” she asked. Manikyamma and her husband Hemanth worked as construction labourers before the lockdown; they came to Bengaluru about seven years ago, and have four children.
Lakshmi N., 27, also from Raichur, came to the city around the same time as Manikyamma. She was working on construction sites in north Bengaluru till the lockdown began. “We make cement and break stones. We earn 300 rupees a day for this work,” she told me. She pays Rs. 500 per month for the single-room makeshift shed in Rachenahalli, where she lives alone.
The migrant workers spoke about various hardships. None of them are eligible to receive government-subsidised foodgrains. Many don’t possess a ration card
Besides rent, everyone here is worrying about the rising prices of food during the lockdown. “And how do we get anything if we don’t have any money? We can’t save anything. We are okay when we are working, but they took that away from us as well,” said 33-year-old Soni Devi. She works as housekeeping staff in an apartment complex close to Rachenahalli.
Soni earns Rs. 9,000 a month, and although she resumed work this month (May), she was paid only Rs. 5,000 for March and nothing in April, when she couldn’t go to work. April was tough on her family, which includes three children, all below 11 years. Her husband Lakhan Singh is an occasional construction worker, earning Rs 450 on days he manages to work; a heart ailment does not allow that much. The family lives in a room similar to Maktumbe’s, paying, as she does, Rs. 2,000 a month as rent. Soni shifted to Bengaluru from Giridih district in Jharkhand with her family about seven months ago, leaving behind her 13-year-old daughter with relatives.
When we met in early April, Soni was worried about the increase in vegetables prices. “A kilo of onion was 25 rupees; now it’s 50 rupees. Ever since this disease has come, we have stopped cooking vegetables in our homes.” For a while, a donor was sending meals to people in the colony. “We were getting one cooked meal a day,” Soni Devi said.
“We have forgotten what vegetables are!” Maktumbe said. “We have to survive on just the rice we are being given [by citizens groups].” When a voluntary organisation supplied dry ration kits, they were not enough. “Some people got it. Others didn’t. So it is becoming difficult,” she said.
“If anyone wants to bring food,” added a frustrated Manikyamma, “it should be for everyone, otherwise for no one. We are more than 100 people here. It shouldn’t make us fight with each other.”
When I went back to Rachenahalli on April 14, the women told me about an incident that had occurred a few hours after I met them on April 4.
'If anyone wants to bring food, it should be for everyone, otherwise for no one. It shouldn’t make us fight with each other'
That evening, residents of the slum colony were told to collect ration kits from the home of a local social worker, Zareen Taj, two kilometres from the colony, in Amruthahalli. “She told us that those who didn’t have ration cards would be given ration. So we went there and were standing in a line,” Lakshmi recalled.
What happened next took them by surprise. “We were waiting for our turn when some men showed up and started shouting. They said that anyone who took the food would get hurt. We got scared and ran away without taking anything,” Lakshmi said.
Zareen says that 15-20 men gathered outside her house and started shouting insults. “They were angry that we were giving food. They started screaming threats, and saying things like, ‘They are terrorists, they have come from Nizamuddin, don’t take their food or you will get infected’.”
Later, on April 6, when Zareen and her relief team were distributing food in Dasarahalli nearby, they were attacked by a group shouting insults and threats. “We were surrounded by men wielding cricket bats, and my son was badly injured,” she says.
On April 16, Zareen’s team was able to finally deliver the dry ration kits to Rachenahalli’s daily-wage workers. “The local corporator arranged for a BBMP [municipal corporation] vehicle to help distribute the kits,” says Sourabh Kumar, a volunteer who worked with Zareen and her team.
“We don’t have time for all this. We have children to feed!” Maktumbe told me later. The incident has left them worried. “I am Hindu, and she is Muslim,” Soni Devi said, pointing to Maktumbe. “What difference does it make? We live as neighbours. Our children were born from a mother’s womb, isn’t it? We would rather go hungry than be put in the middle [of communal politics].”
“We get put in the middle and made into chutney,” adds Maktumbe. “That’s what happens to poor people. We are the ones who die.”