Delhi’s workforce voices their grievances at DRRAA’s Hunger Hearing

Keen on addressing the misconception that life has returned to normalcy after the coronavirus lockdown, the DRRAA organised a public hearing for the domestic workers, labourers and daily-wage earners of Delhi.

Image courtesy: Al Jazeera

Offering a platform for Delhi’s homeless and underprivileged people, the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) organised an online public hearing on hunger and malnutrition in Delhi on November 30, 2020.

With the help of various NGOs in Delhi, the organisation compiled video testimonies and live testimonies of people living in homeless shelters, widows and individuals who lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown. Many of them talked about their desperate efforts to find food

Lack of ration cards and the suspension of midday meals along with sub-par quality of food were some of the primary grievances of people. The DRRAA also pointed out that while the government put on a front that the hunger problem had been resolved after the lockdown, many people still suffered from extenuating circumstances. The organisation has already approached the court regarding the same.

The Satark Nagrik Sangathan visited the Jagdamba camp in Delhi where they came to know that people had availed government ration for only two months during lockdown. Even the food security allowance given to children – Rs. 94 for primary children and Rs. 78 for upper primary children – barely satisfies the family’s nutritional needs on a daily basis.

Domestic worker Yashoda from the same camp talked about how she had filled the ration card application but did not receive any relief from the government. In fact, many people talked about the stagnancy of the ration card application over the course of the hearing.

Yashoda along with her husband lost her job during the lockdown and appealed to the government to provide proper food.

“We have to look for food to feed our three children while also looking for money to pay our rent. We already have a Rs. 40,000-50,000 loan. We ask the government to help us,” she said.

Similarly, 62-year-old Rani said that she had to continue work to support her two grandchildren. However, she also lost her job during the pandemic because of which her 13-year-old grandson has to work a rickshaw collecting garbage to make ends meet.

“During the lockdown, I finally got an e-coupon for ration. However, it only provided me with food once,” she said.

Meanwhile, disabled persons living on Mazaar Park streets sent a video to voice their difficulties during the lockdown. Individuals like Sanjay Kumar, Afroz Alam talked about their disabilities and the lack of ration provisions.

Member of ASTHA, an organisation that works with disabled children from low-income groups, Pratik Aggarwal said that the government should maintain a database of people in urban slums or resettlement areas so they can be easily contacted during emergency situations.

“ASTHA tried to maintain data of 1,500 to 1,700 families. These disabled-children-families, in general, struggle for nutrition. During lockdown, anganwadis were closed because of which the little food provided did not reach these children,” he said.

Parents of one such child Faaz, said that the family was struggling to pay for the child’s medical needs along with school fees following the job-loss in the last few months.

Similarly, the Shahri Mahila Kamgar Union sent video testimonies of widows and domestic workers who had suffered during the last few months due to inefficient application of government provisions.

One of the aggrieved, Usha, used to work at a store. Although Usha owns a receipt to her ration card application, it does not help her avail ration for herself. She has to depend on her daughter to send her food from time to time.

According to Union members, ration that reaches homeless people and daily-wage workers is not always clean. Moreover, in terms of nutrition, people only receive wheat and rice when they should also be getting pulses, oil and other food items. They demanded that the government help with the process of ration cards. Many people in Delhi filed an application five years ago but continue to wait for the document.

DRRAA member Dipa Sinha challenged the notion that Delhi’s hunger crisis had been resolved after the lockdown. Organisation members who visited daily wage workers, slum dwellers and other underprivileged people saw that even after lockdown hunger remains a persisting problem connected to job loss.

“We did a Hunger Watch survey, with 198 people in Delhi including a huge group of homeless people. 43 percent said they still do not have a source of employment. Nearly 50 percent said their main source of food is a mandir or a gurudwara. 40 percent said they slept on an empty stomach. 8 percent said even before lockdown, they sometimes went on an empty-stomach. This number increased in October by 30 percent. 75 percent said they do not have ration cards. People who owned ration cards said they only received food twice during the lockdown. Even in case of e-coupons, most people did not have documents to apply for the service,” she said.

Another shelter woman Pooja Sharma demanded that the government provide food and ration for children since their education was suffering due to income problems. Sharma is also among the many who applied for a ration card.

“Officials asked for an electricity bill, gas bill, despite knowing that I am a homeless person,” she said.

Similarly, Poojakumari from Bakrola said that administrative officers had asked for a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the shelter person along with other documents such as an identity card, electricity bill.

The National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) stated that labourers across the city faced similar problems. They provided videos from Kirti Nagar and Karampura where people voiced similar complaints. Testimonies stated that Kirti Nagar women went for small-time jobs in the afternoon and resorted to beggary by evening.

One of the part-time domestic workers from Akrampura Anara Devi said she held nearly 500 applications for ration cards from her area alone. Only 50 applicants received notifications of ration. Meanwhile, other women struggled to return to their jobs because people feared “think they would spread diseases.”

Following this, DRRAA member and social activist Anjali Bhawadwaj suggested a temporary Covid-19 ration card to offer some relief to underprivileged sections of society.

Member of the Aman Biradari Trust – a people’s campaign that aims to promote equal citizenship – Gufran Alam said that the organisation conducted a survey of around 4,000 people near railway areas. They discovered that three of the eight government shelters in the area had stopped functioning. The working shelters infrequently offered daliah. People preferred to visit nearby temples or gurudwaras.

“Because of the homeless status in their aadhaar card, the document only works as a voter ID. Thus the document does not help the people avail rations. These people include widows, old men whose medical treatments and pensions are given only after submission of documents. These are Indian citizens who do not have their citizen rights,” he said.

Further, transgender community members Reshma, Maharab and Reena, from Jehangirpuri, said their community faced a lot of problems after urban residents prevented them from visiting wedding or birth ceremonies where they earned their wages. They also mentioned that many people in the community did not own a ration card.

Following many such accounts, Shahri Mahila Kamgar Union member Anita Kapoor questioned the government’s inability to provide food kits during the lockdown.

“Before, schools and other institutions offered both uncooked and cooked food. Now, even the 164 people with e-coupons got one-month rations or two months at best. Underprivileged people are entitled to such amenities because they bring the government to power. The government must listen,” she said.

Kapoor also dismissed the idea that shelters are only filled to half its capacity. During lockdown places were jam-packed, she said. One person said he had to get a token if he wished to live in an old shelter.

In response, Chief Engineer of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) Sunil Kumar Mahajan said that the department had already begun efforts to provide breakfast along with lunch and dinner requirements ordered by the High Court of Delhi.

“We acknowledge the statements made by people today. We did restrict food provision in shelters for people living in those buildings to avoid complications in record-keeping. However, we will soon also add breakfast and build tents for pavement people to spend their winter. We will also make masks available. Further, we have a plan to give shelter administrations scanners to check for Covid-19 which will also help people living there,” he said.

Meanwhile, renowned journalist Pamela Philipose who attended the hearing also condemned the government for their treatment of the under-privileged while farmers were out on the streets demanding their agriculture rights. “Right to food is linked to all other aspects of a dignified life. When one of the aggrieved, Chanchal, says she used to earn more before the lockdown, we see a person’s dignity being shattered. The government of the day has to respond,” she said.

Later, senior advocate at the Supreme Court Sanjay Parikh who works with DRRAA, said that both the Delhi government and the central government had failed to enforce the Food Security Act (FSA) of 2013. Many essential bodies stipulated in the Act had not been created such as grievance redressals. Thus, people were suffering from hunger even before the pandemic. Parikh also found it ridiculous that 54 lakh people still came under the non-Public Distribution System (PDS) category.

“If ration is essential then the Delhi government should think about these things. However, even dry ration was given only in April and May. Why aren’t you [the government] frequently providing ration? You know they need ration and that they cannot afford it but still you make no amenities,” he said.

Parikh further talked about the peculiar decision of courts to make decisions regarding ration months later since right to food comes under their fundamental rights.

“Delhi government and central government should resolve not let anyone go hungry and provide food to everyone regardless of technicality. This is also dictated in FSA,” said Parikh.

Another DRRAA member Biraj Patnaik said that 15,000 ration cards were cancelled during the lockdown.

“We can see that the current economy will take a long time to recover. In such a state, it is important that the Delhi government provide, dal, oil and eggs and other basic essentials,” he said, highlighting the importance of a PDS in post-lockdown period.


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