India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 3-week nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19. An estimated 4 million plus homeless people in India have had no way of earning a living since the lockdown began on Mar 25. With streets deserted, even begging is not an option.
In a densely packed neighbourhood of Delhi, hundreds of homeless people queued up for foods from the volunteers. Only a handful of the people in the crowd wore masks. There were no hand sanitizers in sight and no social distancing.
“I need the food,” said a man in the queue, Shiv Kumar. “If I stand apart, someone else might come in between.” Volunteers say such scenes are playing out daily across India, as labourers and waste pickers – most of them homeless or too poor to afford a meal.
Government say the shutdown is necessary to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Because India has reported more than 1,500 cases and 38 deaths from the outbreak.
However, rights groups have criticised the government over what they say has been inadequate planning ahead of the lockdown.
“You cannot impose such drastic measures on a population the size of India all of a sudden,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of Housing and Land Rights Network, a non-profit group that works with the homeless.
“In shelters, we face serious challenges such as the lack of adequate space and sanitation,” she said. “If one person in a shelter gets infected, it’s going to be very hard to control its spread.”
Doctors and health experts say the homeless are among the most at risk from the virus as many already suffer from illnesses such as tuberculosis, and their morbidity rates are higher than for the general population.
Many of those on the streets view the coronavirus with a grim fatalism.
“Some of us will die, some of us will live to suffer,” said Zakir Hussain, a 45-year-old labourer, standing near a homeless shelter in Delhi.
“We are poor. We’ve been left here to die. Our lives are of no value to anyone.”
Although the government has outlined a US$22.6 billion stimulus plan that provides for direct cash transfers and food security measures for the poor, many activists say it is unclear how many homeless, many of whom lack documentation, will not get any aid.
Source : CNA