Mumbai: Lockdown tests homeless as earnings dip, welfare net shrinks | Mumbai News

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MUMBAI: For days at a stretch, Latika*, a single mother living on a pavement in south Mumbai, would feed her two children only sugar and water. There was no money to buy milk, water had to be fetched all the way from Sion and paying Rs 20 for a bath in public bathrooms was unaffordable. The lockdown hasn’t just been about children learning to code online or couples juggling work-from-home alongside chores. On the streets, the lockdown has been about living amid violence, skipping meals frequently, no access to healthcare or education and a halt in earnings.
A comprehensive study conducted across 10 municipalities within Mumbai Metropolitan Region by a non-profit, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), discloses the ordeal of the urban poor and challenges faced for accessing government’s relief measures.
Only about 45% of the 14,133 households surveyed by researchers had ration cards registered within the Mumbai metropolitan system and 17% did not have cards at all. “But having a ration card did not directly imply access, availability or adequacy of ration,” YUVA’s report said. Many couldn’t access state-provided ration because they had no money for long commutes to ration stores. There were also instances of shop owners making arbitrary decisions about how much ration should be given to a family. Some got no ration because their ration cards did not have correct names or their Aadhaar card wasn’t linked to the ration card.
Most domestic workers told researchers they were not paid salaries as they hadn’t been able to go to work. “The Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board did not take any measures to hold employers accountable for payment of wages,” YUVA’s report said. A mere 152 of the 2253 domestic workers surveyed said they were registered with the Board, indicating that even if there were a provision for them, a majority of domestic workers wouldn’t be eligible to access any. Eviction was a constant threat for the homeless and for tenants unable to pay rent. “We were beaten up by the police in the initial phase of the lockdown. Local residents too would complain and shoo us away?,” Nasreen*, a domestic worker rendered homeless in the lockdown, told researchers.
The homeless were anxious about their children’s vulnerability to violence. Darpan*, a father of six from Mankhurd, said fights took place everyday and people would hurl stones and bottles. “Sometimes some men come and sleep next to our children,” another homeless parent confided. A Dadar-based woman told researchers she would stay up all night to watch the children and slept in the morning. A common issue affecting women and girls during lockdown was inability to access sanitary pads for menstrual hygiene. Children with disabilities, including mental health conditions, couldnt procure medicines.
Some children recounted that abusive fathers became more threatening during lockdown. “We heard on the news that all the prisoners would be released and were scared that our father would come back,” shared a child sexual abuse survivor. “When my father used to be angry, he would hit us all and this increased in the lockdown,” said the daughter of a domestic violence survivor who was rescued during the lockdown. Researchers found that children helped their families with household chores and some even took to working outside. In the absence of water connections at home, fetching water was a task commonly assigned to children. Living in very small houses also severely limited their options for recreation.
Construction workers were not better off either. To be eligible to receive the government-facilitated Rs 2,000 cash transfer (later increased to another Rs 3,000), construction workers need to be registered with the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (BOCW–WB). Registration for those who live and work on construction sites is marginally easier as they are able to furnish work certificates from a single employer. Research revealed that 24% of workers out of 3908 found living on construction sites were registered with the Board. This number was even lower for people who depended on ‘naka based’ (daily-wage) construction work opportunities– only 3% out of 2624 surveyed were registered. Most people who didn’t work on construction sites therefore couldn’t avail of cash benefit transfers.
Waste recyclers faced a complete halt in their earnings as waste picking and recycling completely stopped during the lockdown. In the absence of any social security, some waste pickers had to resort to begging. The government’s announcement of a monthly cash transfer of Rs 500 for women with Jan Dhan accounts did not help 76% of 14750 households surveyed as these did not have a bank account in a woman’s name. Among women who had bank accounts, a majority did not have Jan Dhan accounts.
(names changed to protect identities)

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