Hometown: Bansa, Uttar Pradesh
Occupation: Labourer at Export Company
Returned from: Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu
Nandlal worked at an export company performing labour tasks for the past six years in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. At the announcement of the lockdown, he did not understand the severity of the virus at first. He thought these are rather drastic actions for a virus. However, it was upon inquiring from reliable sources around him he learned of the virus, and the fear took over him. With his family demanding of his return, his co-workers leaving for their respective villages, Nandlal too decided to make the journey back to Uttar Pradesh.
Interviewer: When did you first encounter the Covid-19 virus? How did you reach back to Uttar Pradesh? Share the details of the journey.
Nandlal: I first was informed of the virus through my smartphone. Later in April, as the companies began shutting, the ‘Janta Curfew’ announcement left no certainty of the future. I did not think being able to continue earning will ever be a concern. In the next few days, I gained more information about the virus through my contractor. He implied wearing a mask and isolating at home were the only two methods to avoid the disease.
There were two cases in Kerala my employer informed us off. Also, he provided soap, sanitizer, and masks. Soon after, the staff at the workplace got infected that lead to the shutdown of the whole plant. I assumed it would not last longer than two weeks or so, however, it lasted over a month.
When the spread of the virus deteriorated – my roommates suggested we head home before contaminating ourselves, and family demanded of my safe return to the village at once.
The contractor helped us rent a vehicle, issue necessary paperwork, and paid the dues as I had only Rs. 400 left. The driver we had requested for the bus, procrastinated for a few days after which we rented another bus. It took 12 days to reach home. The first two days I was stranded in Tiruppur waiting for the bus driver. Most of us had contributed the remainder of our savings for renting the bus. We left for Vijayawada via Chennai, drove till Kanpur, and then got off at Unnao. My mother asked a relative in the neighbourhood to drop me off till Lucknow on a two-wheeler because the lockdown forbade the movement of four-wheelers, and further onwards I advanced on foot till Bansa.
I had a small amount of money and due to the strictness of the lockdown — all ‘Dhabas’ were shut. I requested Rs. 3,000 from my brother. For five days during the journey, I was without food and water. I would not have died without eating. It was only after Vijayawada I got water. Those who stocked prior to the departure did not have to go without food. In Kanpur, we noticed a water pump, and as we approached, the owner of the well refused. Perhaps, he was scared too.
Upon reaching the village, I experienced hostility from the villagers as they were sure I was a carrier of the Covid-19 virus. The Pradhan of our village explained the entire procedure of testing and quarantine. I lived alone for fourteen days, and by then – the villagers were confident of my health.
Interviewer: How has the pandemic affected your livelihood? Do you have a plan for the future?
Nandlal: I earned Rs. 12,000 in a month, paid Rs. 4,500 for the room I was sharing with five others, food required Rs. 500 every week, and the remaining amount, would be sent to the family. Since my return – I work at farms earning Rs. 100 or Rs. 200 a day, not more. The work is erratic, but no one in the village will pay above that. My infant consumes Rs. 200 worth of milk in five days, and furthermore, we rely on ration. Ther are no assets either.
The future seems like a dead-end. The lockdown is now further extended, yet there are not enough employment opportunities here, the labourers are desperate – they have to accept work for Rs. 80. Sugar costs Rs. 40 per kg. and Tea is Rs. 10. How am I to continue staying alive like this?
I studied till 10th grade, so, I can operate a smartphone; I use WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter regularly, although I do not understand the functionality of Twitter, thus – I deleted the application recently. I had to sell the smartphone for my daughter’s medical expenses during the lockdown in Tamil Nadu itself. Ever since — I have not updated myself with the news of the virus. I am hoping to provide my daughter with the necessary resources that allow her to surpass the unfortunate struggle my father and I experienced. He is illiterate, but I did what I had to for work outside.
The government releases schemes that are for people with resources. I have not heard of any measure accessible to me. Besides, it is for those who have money – can get a load, ration card, and all other assistance. The Pradhan responds with excuses if I inquire.
Nandlal’s Mother: I do not have much information on the virus. Whatever I know, is through my son. I was worried to death; I did not eat, nor did I sleep. Perhaps, I would have died before all. It is up to him to go back. There is a financial responsibility on all three of my children, and in addition, Nandlal has his own family to support. He will continue to do what he thinks is right, and I will provide my blind support.