Labouring Lives: Hunger, Precarity and Despair amid Lockdown


This report, titled Labouring Lives: Hunger, Precarity and Despair amid Lockdown, was published on June 19, 2020. It has been produced by the Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi; Karwan-e-Mohabbat (a New Delhi-based organisation that works issues related to hate crimes), and the Delhi Research Group (an informal network of scholars).

The 55-page report presents the results of a survey on unemployment and hunger among migrant and other workers in urban and rural India, after the Covid-19 lockdown was announced on March 24. A total of 1,405 interviews were conducted– most of them on the telephone – between May 25 and June 10, 2020. The respondents were from Assam, Bihar, Delhi and the National Capital Region, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The report’s 11 chapters cover the 'Context of this Study' (chapter 1), 'Focus of the Survey' (chapter 2), 'Methodology & rationale of the Survey' (chapter 3), 'Income and employment in the pre-lockdown period' (chapter 4), 'Job-Loss during lockdown and perceived future about employment' (chapter 5), 'Hunger and Food Security' (chapter 6), 'Social and state support' (chapter 7), 'Mechanisms to Access to Public Services' (chapter 8), 'Conclusion' (chapter 9),  'Key Takeaways of the Study' (chapter 10) and the 'Way Forward' (chapter 11).


  1. Over 92 per cent of the survey’s respondents – or 1,294 workers – were unable to find work during the lockdown, while 5 per cent of respondents (70 workers) found work with a lesser pay than before, and 2.6 per cent (37 workers) found work at their regular rate.

  2. The report notes that daily wage workers, inter-state migrants and workers in urban areas earned more than some other categories of workers before the lockdown began. But their employment was highly fragile, they remained extremely vulnerable to job loss, and could barely withstand the lockdown shock.

  3. More than 60 per cent of respondents reported they remained hungry for days – ranging from 1 to more than 7 days – during the lockdown period.

  4. Roughly a fourth of all respondents did not have to access to food support provided by the government during the lockdown. The survey’s results indicate that non-governmental organisations “were a bigger source of food support compared to the government.”

  5. Over half of the surveyed workers had to borrow money during the lockdown: 39.9 per cent (or 560 workers) borrowed from friends and relatives; 7.1 per cent (or 100 workers) from money lenders’ and 6.3 per cent (or 88 workers) from local shops.

  6. Among the survey’s respondents, a disproportionate share of Muslims, ‘non-migrants’, women and workers earning less than Rs. 5,000 a month, did not receive income or food support from any source – NGOs, the government, community members, religious charities or relatives.

  7. The report recommends an ‘expansion’ of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, such that work is provided “on demand” to all adults, without restrictions, and for more than 100 days. It also suggests implementing an employment guarantee scheme for urban areas.

  8. The public distribution system should be universalised, states the report, and the government must implement cash transfers at a large scale to tackle this “immense humanitarian crisis.”

    Focus and Factoids by Arpita Giri.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi; Karwan-e-Mohabbat, New Delhi; and Delhi Research Group


Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi; Karwan-e-Mohabbat, New Delhi; and Delhi Research Group


19 Jun, 2020