Close to 70% respondents (i.e. 438 pf 633 people) in rural India reported that they do not have any kind of savings to make up for the employment or livelihood loss that they will suffer because of the Covid-19 outbreak in India. A sizable percentage of respondents also reported that they have been asked by their respective employers to either return to their hometown or not to report to work due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
These were some of the findings of a survey in rural India before Prime Minister Narendra Modi put India on a 21-day lockdown on 23 March 2020. The national lockdown is seen as a critical measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far affected 753 people and killed 18 in India (as of Friday, 27 March).
Days before the lockdown was announced and daily wage labourers and migrant workers started abandoning cities for their villages/hometowns, Mobile Vaani and 101Reporters conducted a survey to gauge the awareness and impact of coronavirus/Covid-19. A total of 769 people took the survey (but not all answered all the survey questions) over four days from 20-23 March 2020. Majority of the respondents (nearly 47%) were from Bihar while the others were from Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR. An overwhelming majority, 87.8% were males, with 55.5% working locally as farm and agriculture labourers and 15% as daily wage or migrant workers.
“The disease has caused much pain, and we are worried about our livelihood. We deserve financial support from the government,” said Prakash Mistry, a 45-year-old daily wage labourer. “We are not getting any support from the local representative.”
The survey found that more than half the respondents were aware about the recent outbreak and knew about how to avoid contracting it, largely due to messaging on mass-media and social media. Ironically though, 53.4% respondents (n=693*) said they had no information on a nearby primary healthcare centre (PHC) or any government facility where testing for Covid-19 could be done, the survey found.
Employers had started asking workers to not report to work even before the national lockdown was announced, the survey findings bear out; 41.4% respondents (n=642) said that they have been asked by their respective employers/contractors to return to their hometown or not to report to work. Of these, 56 per cent respondents said that they do not have any savings to make up for the loss of wages.
For Umesh Prasad, a vendor who sells litti-chokha (a traditional food dish in Bihar) from a pushcart in Munger, Bihar, the outbreak has brought his livelihood to a standstill. “My stall has been closed since Saturday,” the sole breadwinner of a family of five told Mobile Vaani surveyors. “I earn about Rs100 per day. Before closing my stall on Saturday, I could sell just eight littis.”
Pramila Devi, from Sandalpur, Munger, rued about the severe inflation. “Poor people like us are forced to buy essentials at higher prices. I have had to cut down on the quantity of vegetables and groceries because the prices are out of my budget,” she said, and added that if the government doesn’t release subsidised rations, then it may lead to widespread hunger, and possibly even starvation deaths.
(Geetika Mishra is a member of the grassroots reporters platform 101Reporters; the survey was conducted by Mobile Vaani with support from 101Reporters)
Disclaimer: This report was written before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown across India