The second phase of corona lockdown has started. Yet, even after 26 days of the lockdown, government help has not reached the most vulnerable people. The Kanjar community living in Dhekpur and Tarawali villages in Berasia Tehsil of Bhopal have been rendered completely helpless, scrounging for each grain they can get. This landless community has had no stable income even prior to the lockdown. Carrying the stigma of a denotified tribe, they have been forced to brew liquor and sell it to passersby on the road and this meagre source of income too has stopped in the lockdown.
Niranjan Kanjar, a resident of Tarawali shared that the situation has become very dire for the people of his community. Of the 75 families, only one-third have a BPL card and were able to avail of the 3 months ration given in early March. Contradictory to announcements, those without a ration card have not been able to access the 5 kg grain being promised by the state. Applications for ration cards to the SDM office and continuous visits there have not yielded anything over the past one year. “After so many days also, we have had no support. If there was a choice to work, we would not have been pushed to beg. No one likes to ask of the other, but if we don’t open our hands, how will we feed the children? People say that we are used to eating for free, it hurts us when people speak like this about us.”
Jugiya Bai shared that she does not have a ration card. “I have done 2 rounds of the government PDS shop but they say that the computer is down, come later. The government has told us to stay at home, but can a child’s hunger wait for even a day? Elders can stay hungry but children need food everyday. The children had got 2-2 kg wheat from the school but how long can this last?” she said.
Ajayram of Bijoripura Dhekpur said that, “Those who don’t have a ration card have taken wheat on credit from the farmers, and are boiling porridge and eating. They have got this wheat as a loan and will need to repay it by working for the farmers later.”
Sitara Bai Kanjar, who is a widowed old lady, said that “the three months’ ration is being distributed but I have not been able to get that also. When I go to the control shop, the dealer sends us off with some excuse or the other. I can’t understand whom should I go and complain to?”
Ahilya Kanjar, 21 years old, in a broken voice shared that her husband who is only about 25 years old, has a broken spine and is restricted to the bed. They have three children. The eldest child is about 8 years old. She would sell the locally brewed alcohol and provide for her husband’s medicines, doctor’s fees, diapers, urine pipe and also household food expenses, but this limited income has also stopped now. She has taken Rs. 20000 as a loan for her husband’s treatment, which no one was willing to loan her owing to her financial status, and as a result she had to mortgage her father’s land in lieu of this loan. This was a three-month loan, which if unable to pay, would imply losing that last asset too. She is scared that if she is not able to keep up the medical expenses, her husband’s life would be in danger. This lockdown has pushed her into a well of debt, she shared with tears flowing down her face. Similarly, Charandas has had to take a loan for food for children and the purchase of medicines needed for his wife’s mental health disease.
This is the situation for most Kanjar families in this area. They are defined by their resilience, their ability to survive against the odds, yet they are seen by the state only through a lens of criminality. Just a few days prior to the lockdown the police had locked up many women and children when they ‘dared’ to venture out for a Holi fair. The state was prompt to act in that circumstance – going out of their way to incarcerate a group for no crime at all, and yet it has been impossible for any government representative to reach out and help these people at this time? Who are the real criminals here – Ahilya, Sitara and the others who are simply trying to survive, or the state that is repeatedly failing to deliver on its duties and promises?
Promises and assurances from the state are aplenty, yet the ground reality shows the hollowness of these promises. The situation amongst the daily wage earners, migrant families and the marginalized communities show that the lockdown has been completely an unorganized and unplanned step. It is pushing vulnerable people over the brink.
Brajesh Verma 9165928519; firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is working in Muskaan and had been to these two villages in Berasia to provide some ration support based on a call received from the area.
Post this article and its publishing in a daily, the tehsildar visited the villages to assess the situation and Dainik Bhaskar provided some weekly ration bags.