Prem, 30, and his wife, Orpha, are among the 1,300 people living in small, cramped houses in Sundarapuram in Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu. They are fighting two battles.
On the one hand, the close proximity of their houses – tents, some as small as a car shed – will cause coronavirus to spread rapidly. On the other hand, without their daily income, they are struggling to make ends meet.
‘How Do We Practice Social Distancing?’
As social distancing became the key to curtail the disease’s spread, local authorities ensured the people living in Sundarapuram slum were aware of practicing it.
However, Orpha says, “They are telling us to maintain social distancing, but in our area we don’t even have enough space to stand in a line.”
“We have been told in detail what is this virus, how to maintain hygiene, to stay inside our homes, to always wear chappals while walking outside, not talk much to people, and wear masks.”Orpha
She says the people in her slum are “all making sure to follow these guidelines”. Most of the families are migrants from Nagpur in Maharashtra who made Coimbatore their home about 30 years ago.
‘There Are Many Like Us Who Need Financial Help’
Like many other men in the slum, Prem is a mechanic for buses and lorries. On a usual day, the BSc Computer Science graduate would wait at the NH47 bypass for work.
On an income of Rs 300 a day, he was able to provide for his family. Now with no work, he demands financial assistance from the Tamil Nadu government.
“We tried borrowing money from people to manage our daily expenses, but they too don’t have jobs. And there are people ready to help, but there are many like us who need help,” Orpha says.
District Collector Rajamani told The Quint that the state has started providing cooked meals for the community. The state has also given them Rs 1,000 per family – and with the help of the state government-initiated welfare scheme, the people have been procuring free ration.
But, the residents don’t think this is enough.
“Yes, the state has given us rice, sugar, and sometimes even cooked meals... But what about milk? Daily supplies? Something as simple as soap and detergent?” they asked.
Rajamani added that apart from ration, the government is working towards providing these supplies. He even urged the people to reach out to government officials so that they can attend to their needs specifically.
A Package for Migrants, Marginalised, Homeless
There are over 35,000 labourers in Coimbatore itself, according to the collector, and most of them are from Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Just like this settlement, several other communities have been covered under the state government’s Rs 3,280 crore special relief package. This includes Rs 1,000 cash assistance, 15 kg rice, one kg dal, kerosene, five kg of wheat, sugar, and cooking oil for ration card holders, auto-rickshaw drivers, construction workers and families of migrant labourers.
“As per the government instructions, employers should provide food shelter and other basic amenities. Of that, 18,000 people are being served there. We have lists, officers from the revenue department closely monitoring this, and there’s no issue so far. But this is not the case for at least 3,000-4,000 labourers. So we are taking care of them too,” he added.
Labourers have also been provided shelter in corporation community halls, private wedding halls and churches have even opened up their community halls. Even a few CSR agencies are helping the state government in providing cooked food and revenue.
The collector adds that though Rs 1,000 is being provided only for ration card holders, he has appealed to the state government to extend the scheme to even those who are not natives.
“This will mean a huge deal for a number of migrants,” he says.