India is a country well known for its gigantic statistics. Hosting 1.3 billion people in a landmass of roughly 3 million square kilometres. While as overwhelming as it may sound, the figure that we will concern ourselves with is the 450 million daily wagers who form a part of India. It is necessary to develop some context on this issue before diving into it:
WHO ARE THE DAILY WAGERS?
A broad list of occupations come under the daily wager category but in simple terms the earnings of a daily wage worker is mainly based on the actual working days. Their jobs are generally physically demanding and fall under the unorganised sector. Daily wagers include the likes of construction workers, tea vendors, auto drivers and so on. While their individual contribution towards the economy may be low but as a whole, they play a huge role in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture which account for more than fifty percent of the GDP of India.
WHAT KIND OF PROBLEMS DO THEY FACE IN THEIR DAILY LIFE?
The largest problem that they face is the absence of labour laws. Although these laws exist on paper, seldom they are followed because their line of employment comes under the unorganised sector which is known for exploitation practices. Apart from this, many daily wage labourers do not have identity verification of any sort due to which they do not fall under many government schemes. As a result, due to insufficient wages and lack of identity, they face a multitude of general issues ranging from homelessness to health problems.
THE CURRENT SITUATION –
The daily wage workers lie on the lowest rung of the society struck by poverty and lack of basic living conditions. A larger part of the issue is also that majority of these workers have dependent families with them who also need to be fed and taken care of. They had a meagre daily source of income that they could rely upon until the lockdown started. With the stop of work of all sorts came the pause to their normal lives too.
The fight for providing decent living conditions to their family has now turned into a fight for hunger. Surviving in metropolitan cities with minimal to zero savings is not going to last for long but unfortunately these workers cannot return home either due to suspension of public transport. Many have resorted to walking or cycling back hundreds of kilometres which also has resulted in deaths on highways. Government schemes such as MGNREGA have also come to a halt but the demand for jobs have risen. Their jobs being physical in nature cannot be done virtually during the lockdown. Employers of daily wagers barely pay the minimum wages and so the concept of paid leave is non-existent in this sector (which research has suggested is essential to maintain economic stability). As a result, many have resorted to borrowing of money which in the long run are seeds for bonded labour wherein lenders give out high interest loans with the motive of exploiting the labourer when they fail to repay.
UNINTENDED REPERCUSSIONS –
This has also led to the collection of labourers staying together in densely crowded areas as they see their only immediate support being each other. Apart from this there is also frequent crowding for hours together near ration shops and other public distribution system for acquiring minimal food for survival. And inadvertently it has become a complete breach of lockdown norms which is highly problematic for any recovery in the future from this pandemic.
THE LABOURER’S PERSPECTIVE –
Amidst all this chaos, it is also necessary to understand how the daily wagers view the current situation. This lockdown has not been kind for all, but the plight of this pandemic has not been the same for everyone either. While for most of us this situation is entirely new, for the daily wagers it is not. Their daily life is a struggle of one sort or the other. We must understand that the daily wager is in a situation where he gets killed by the virus or by his hunger.
FINAL NOTE –
The large picture now is that we are all in this together and we are only as safe as our least protected neighbour. The question does not remain as to the who, why or what. In fact, there is no question that remains anymore, only an appalling situation for huge section of the Indian population and their yearn for help.