Name: Dhaniram Behaliya & Arjun Pahan
Hometown: Hesatu, Jharkhand
Occupation: Mason Work
Returned from: Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
The two were construction workers in Coimbatore. Dhaniram has worked there for the past ten years, while Arjun reached five months ago. Both were in a similar predicament; not having an optimal employment opportunity in Jharkhand. After the announcement of the lockdown, they waited for two months exhausting their savings and when work did restart – it did so with a crisis. Instead of risking their lives, they decided to make the journey back to Hesatu.
Interviewer: How did you hear about the pandemic? Elaborate your following days including the journey.
Dhaniram Behaliya: I first heard of the virus in February. It was still an alien concept; I was told it is emitted in the chicken, thus maintain distance. However, I realized later – it can transmit through humans as well and began maintaining distance.
I own a smartphone; I use Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and heard the news. I ‘like’ posts on Facebook, view photos, and video-chat on WhatsApp. I sourced my information from the news applications.
The lockdown shut all our sources of income. For two months, we survived without work and exhausted all our savings. We saw other people stranded leave for their homes on the train. In the following days, we submitted the online application and filled our personal details at the police station. In the meantime, work had resumed. A steel rod fell from a height causing damage to the construction site; the employer asked us to restart working by fixing the damage. Neither of us wanted to risk our lives at the construction site, hence – we refused.
In the next few days, the policemen contacted us to reach the station and board the train to Jharkhand. They noted the Aadhar Card details at the platform, gave food and water, and we boarded the train. Once we arrived in Bokaro, we were given food at the railway station followed by a bus journey to Dhurwa for the checking process. Afterwards, the bus dropped us in Angada, and we walked the remaining 15k.m. in two hours.
Upon our arrival in the village, the villagers refused to let us enter and referred to us as “corona.” The villagers disputed our entry at first. Yet, it was after deliberations amongst themselves they agreed to let us enter. We arrived late in the evening, and since the Mukhiya was aware of our arrival, he set up the quarantining facilities. There was provision for food and water. Our family also suggested we not come home as the children will not be able to resist meeting us, and it was safer this way.
Arjun Pahan: Once the quarantine ended, our families welcome us with a ‘Puja’. Since then, I have been working irregularly on a transformer for Rs. 400 a day for five to ten days a month. Dhaniram has not been able to find work yet.
We both rely on ration. The government provides 2kg. ‘Dal’ and 10kg. Rice once a month. The volunteer organisations distribute food, but we avoid it since we get a home-cooked meal, and others need it more.
Interviewer: How has the pandemic reshaped your life?
Dhaniram Behaliya: I have no studied at all, while Arjun has till 10th grade. I am 30, and he is 22 years old. I provide for a family of five along with my two brothers, and my father contributes by working locally. Our expenditure reaches Rs. 7,000 a month, however, I earn Rs. 1,00,000 in six months. My employer pays Rs. 15,000 every month in addition to the overtime earnings. With curbing my expenditure at Rs. 4,000 – I can save over Rs. 12,000 a month.
Arjun Pahan: I earn for a family of four with my father. The two younger siblings are in school, and my father works as a ‘Mistry’ earning Rs. 8,000 a month. The local work had slowed down; I decided to leave to find a higher waged employment opportunity. I earned Rs. 10,000 a month with Rs. 4,000 on personal expenditure and send the remaining amount home. It is through a contractor we find work. The new laws safeguard us from any form of exploitation. Although there are often payment delays, we are sure we will receive it. The contractor does not charge any commission either.
Dhaniram Behaliya: I am not too sure how the future will shape. Since the financial condition of my family is unstable, I did not have the time to get married. We own a lot of lands, but they are distributed throughout the village, and the soil is infertile.
Arjun Pahan: I hope the government continues doing what they can for us. Meanwhile, I will continue working on the transformer and generate whatever amount from the 2acre land we own. However, like Dhaniram, our land is also distributed through the neighbourhood.