(Names have not been changed)
Gopal is from Munkanpalli village, district Gulbarga, Karnataka. He moved to Bangalore with his family a decade ago. Gopal and his son-in-law make a living as construction workers in the city, his wife does the housework. His elder daughter is married and settled in Hyderabad, his younger daughter and son-in-law live with them. His younger daughter just gave birth to a baby.
Gopal and his family live in a jhopadi in Kaggadasapura. There are 100-150 jhopadis in the vicinity, and more than 1000 people live in the area. There is no running water or electricity. For bathing they buy a can of water once in five days or so from the government water dispenser on the road, it is 2 to 5 rupees for 20 litres. Gopal doesn’t have a fixed employer. He goes from construction site to construction site looking for work. Mondays are the days to get work. Construction workers get hired for 6 days minimum, Gopal shares. Sunday is a holiday. If you can’t find work on Monday, it’s difficult to get work in the middle of the week. He finds out where construction work is going on by asking friends and others working at construction sites.
Gopal doesn’t know any work except agricultural work and construction work. He earns some 300-400 rupees a day mixing cement, reti and so on at construction sites in Bangalore. Masons get about 500 rupees and those doing plaster work get between 700-800 rupees a day. Daily wage for women is some 250-300 rupees a day. In his village Gopal would make 250-300 rupees as a labourer in the fields or as a helper at construction sites. The daily wage for women in the village is 150-160 rupees. There isn’t much employment in his village. What little construction is done, is done using mud, water, and stones. Agricultural labour depends on the rain. If it rains, there will be work. But there is always a 50% chance it won’t rain. The year before last it didn’t rain at all. Last year was okay, it rained half as much as it should have. When it rains in June and July, tur, jowari and mong is sowed in his village. If it doesn’t rain on time, people have to go to Bombay, Hyderabad, Bangalore, dur dur gaon, to find work.
Gopal’s mother lives alone in the village. They have a small house there. They don’t have any agricultural land. By Gopal’s estimate there are 7-800 houses in Munkanpalli. The government hospital is 10 kms away in Mudhol village. Before the lockdown Gopal used to send money to his mother every month, 500-1000-2000 rupees. Now that has stopped. When Gopal heard about the lockdown on WhatsApp and from people outside Kaggadasapura, trains and buses had stopped working, how could they go back to the village? It is 700 kms from Bangalore. And even if they had gone, the villagers wouldn’t have allowed them into the village. He had called his relatives. They told him, there is a lockdown here as well, you don’t come back, stay in the city, if you come you might bring the disease with you, ours is a rural area. Gopal had told them, if we come to the village, we might get something to eat, there is nothing in the city. But his relatives in the village refused. If he and his family were in the village, someone or the other would have helped them. In the city people don’t see each other’s faces, they don’t come out. If they come out, they get what they need and go back, who looks at poor people like us?
In Bangalore, the government distributes food in Gopal’s area. Aur kuchh bade log aaye toh kuch khaane ko, peene ko deta hai. But even when the government, police, citizens’ groups or NGOs distribute food, because there are so many people, some get food, some don’t. If we ask the government, if we call the helpline, they give us food. Ek din dega, do din dega, roz toh dega nahi, kitna din ho gaya, ek mahina ho gaya madam. City mein majduri bhi nahi hai, aur das rupay dene waala bhi koi nahi hai. Hum log bahut pareshan hai. Humara paristhithi bahut gambhir hai.
When he used to work and earn, they had money to buy their own ration and eat. Things were good. Now with the lockdown things have become very difficult. They get food and water irregularly. The government people come with cooked food. If they distribute ration instead, like some people do, it will be better. Then Gopal and others living in his area can cook for themselves.
Food distribution underway in Kaggadasapura
There is no tv in their jhopdi, and no way of reading the news. If someone gets a newspaper from outside then they read it, otherwise no newspaper waala comes to their area. Gopal knows about Corona from his mobile, from WhatsApp. Corona bimari toh aisa hai madam, kabhi aata hai, kisiko pata nahi lagta hai. You won’t know when you get it, but once you get it, after 2 or 4 or 10 days you will have a cough, then urgently you have to call 104 and they will come and take you. The police are asking them to wear masks or tie kerchiefs around their faces, and they are all doing this. People in the area are scared of getting the disease, so they avoid going outside, and the police doesn’t let them anyway. If they try going outside, the police beat them. Even though police arrange for food and water, Gopal says people are having difficulties, they aren’t getting enough to eat. Seeing his daughter in these difficult circumstances, Gopal has tears in his eyes.
People in the jhopdis in Kaggadasapura don’t know anyone in the government, bade log, leader log bhi koi malum nahi hai. Who will they go to? No one is asking about them. If there was one person who was in charge of their welfare, they would have known whom to go to. They just sit in their jhopdis and police and others come and distribute food on and off.
There are no cases of Corona in his area, why will he lie? They do not go out, and people from outside do not come in. No doctor has visited his area so far. Some people have gone to the government doctor for fever. The doctors wear gloves, masks, and plastic covers on their shoes, full pack hoke aata hai humko check karne ko. The doctors check between their eyes for fever and ask them not to stay in the hospital for long. They say, aye, tumhare ko kuchh nahi hai, jao, jaada aane ka nahi idhar.
If there is a medical emergency in Gopal’s area, people know they have to call 108 for an ambulance. 2 women, including his daughter, have delivered babies in the last 8-10 days. When his daughter had to deliver, she was taken in an ambulance. They could visit her in the hospital when she was there. After 4 days they brought her home. They have the medicines she needs in their jhopdi. Apart from 108, if anyone calls 100 the police come, and if there is a problem they call for medical help. But as such there has been no medical problem in the area.
Gopal is worried about his mother in the village. We don’t have land we don’t have agriculture. She should have something to eat no. Gopal called his relatives in the village asking them to take care of her. Koi dekhta hai, koi nahi dekhta hai, hum log toh idhar hai. Koi dekhne waala hai? Bhagwaan dekhne waala hai, humko lagta hai aisa. His mother says someone or the other is giving her roti, sabji. Theek hai, jo milta hai, bhagwaan ne jo diya woh khao, she tells Gopal.
Gopal has no real savings. He and his family don’t have their own house in the city, they have to stay in a jhopdi. Bahut ganda bhi rehta hai. But what can they do? If it’s not dirty also they have to stay and if it’s dirty also they have to stay. The rules in the city are that children can work only after 18. That’s also a problem. There are at least 100 children in the area where he stays, they barely have clothes to wear. The government says send the children to school. But udhar bhi kuchh nahi hai, idhar bhi kuchh nahi hai. Kya karneka?
Food is becoming expensive in the lockdown. Kya milta hai aapko toh pata hai hi. Rice was 50-60 rupees a kg, tomatoes, 20-25 rupees a kg. Now prices are increasing. Those who go to buy ration, some get it, some don’t. How long will this go on? First, they said a week, then two weeks. It has been a month now. And they are saying the lockdown will go on till the 3rd of May, maybe after that as well. If he was working, he would have earned, khaata tha, aur rehta tha. Now he doesn’t have 10 rupees.
Bahut pareshaan hai. Jo time kharab hai, bhagwaan humko kharab diya, aisa soch leta hai. He will quickly send photos of his jhopdi and the food distribution happening. He won’t be able to use his phone after the 19th. It is running out of balance and he doesn’t have money for a recharge.
It rained through the night in Bangalore yesterday, stopping only at 9 this morning. The basti where Gopal lives flooded and 60-70 tarpaulin jhopdis are damaged and are leaking. His daughter, who recently had a baby, was offered shelter in a small room that was vacant in a nearby building. Gopal and others called the police for help. Police have seen the flooding, and expressed concern, but help has not yet arrived. So, the residents of the basti dug a furrow till a nearby nallah and the water flowed out. If it rains heavily again tonight, which seems likely, tomorrow the basti will be flooded again.
The jhopdis in Gopal’s basti are badly damaged. Unlike normal circumstances, residents of the area cannot go out, earn a living and repair their homes themselves. Gopal has reached out, asking for help. If someone can give them money for sheets of tarpaulin to repair their homes it will be a huge help. Each sheet costs 1500 rupees and they need 20-25 sheets. There are more than 60 jhopdis, but by using old and new sheets together and by sharing, Gopal and the others can fix their houses. He will be happy to share the bill for tarpaulin sheets purchased.
We managed to raise 21,000 rupees for Gopal and others at the basti. Happily, Gopal was able to get the tarpaulin sheets cheaper than he earlier estimated, and they also received help from people living closeby. As a result, Gopal asked that we send only 17,000 out of the money we had raised, which has been transferred this morning. We’ve decided to donate the rest towards others in need.
Someone reached out for help and it’s wonderful that we could respond. I’m truly grateful for that. But unfortunately, it doesn’t solve much in the long run. I don’t know the long term solution, and I’m pretty sure I (we?) don’t have a grasp on the problem to begin with. Someone I deeply respect recently told me, we have a lot to learn about our country – from the workings of its public distribution system to how and why people and the government have responded to the pandemic in the way we have – and this crisis might be a unique opportunity to start looking, and start learning.
Hearing about Gopal’s experiences has brought her words to mind more than once.
2020 was difficult for Gopal and others in his basti, but the first wave began to ebb September onwards, and things improved for sometime. By March 2021 however, India's second wave of Covid-19 infections had begun in Maharashtra and by April it had reached Bangalore. Now Gopal and his neighbours are struggling once again. Construction work has dried up and with a lockdown-like situation in the city, Gopal and his neighbours are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
We are once again collecting funds for Gopal and others in the basti - this time to ensure that they have enough ration to last them for two months atleast. If you'd like to contribute, please donate here:
With your donations we were able to distribute ration kits to 33 families in Gopal's basti yesterday. Gopal ji and others went to the MORE store nearby and purchased the necessary ration. The total amount spent was 42,000.
It's a humbling experience to see Gopal ji and others buy ration enough for one month in much lesser amounts than our estimate per family even though we didn't ask them to. This is bittersweet, but it means the donations collected here will go a longer way in this time of crisis.
Closing this update with a reminder that this is just month 1! Hopefully this crisis will abate soon, but until then, please keep the donations coming and share the word far and wide.
Won't be fair to say thank you - we're all in this together, so as a team, I'd say, high five!
Link to fundraiser: Ration Kits For A Group Of Folk Artists In Rajasthan And A Basti In Blore