Labour Day in Lockdown: Statistics Can Never Capture the Suffering

International Labour Day: No statistic can capture the real suffering of the Indian labourer during the lockdown.

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Camerapersons: Sanjoy Deb, Abhishek Ranjan


“2.7 billion workers, representing around 81 percent of the world’s workforce, have been affected by full or partial lockdown measures after the coronavirus outbreak.”

Source: ILO Monitor 2nd Edition: Covid19 and the World of Work

“In India, 400 million workers in informal economy may fall deeper into poverty.”

Source: ILO Monitor 2nd Edition: Covid19 and the World of Work


Startling as these numbers might be, no amount of statistics can measure the exact toll the lockdown has taken on the labourers, both in the formal and informal sectors. So when statistics fail to capture the complete story, perhaps testimonials are the only way to encapsulate what the workers in India are going through.

Namita Bairagi and her family having lunch in Kolkata.
(Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
“We are eating mashed rice and water everyday. There’s nothing else to eat. Even if my son doesn’t want to eat, I force feed him. We have been eating rice and water. It’s not that we are doing it for the camera.”
Namita Biairagi, Kolkata resident

When we met Namita Biaragi and her husband Manik in Kolkata, they were having ‘panta bhaat’ or rice and water for lunch. Manik used to work as a driver, earning around Rs 300 a day. But since the lockdown began on 25 March, his earnings have come down to nothing.

“Our condition is really bad. I have no money to even buy milk for my son or medicines for my wife. I really don’t know how we are going to survive.”
Manik Bairagi, works as a driver in Kolkata

Sometimes their young son cries for a packet of chips. But the family can’t even afford to shell out Rs 5 to buy him that. They would rather save the money to buy the next day’s meal.

Labourers resting in Delhi’s Khari Baoli.
(Photo: Abhishek Ranjan)

Hundreds of kilometres away in Delhi, it’s the same story. Khari Baoli is a wholesale market near the Old Delhi station. Thousands of daily wage labourers used to work here, pulling carts, lifting goods. But the day we visited the market there were just 30 workers hanging around.

Since there was no work most of them were taking naps on their carts.

Prem Singh came to Delhi from Uttarakhand 25 years ago. He has been working as a daily wage labourer here since then. Working during the day and sleeping outside the shops during the night.

“I have never seen a time like this. I have nothing, no money, no food. When some rich people distribute food, we go there to eat. I agree that the lockdown is necessary. But it shouldn’t be so strict. Wherever we go, we are beaten by the police.”
Prem Singh, Daily wage labourer in Khari Baoli
Prem Singh is a daily wage labourer in Khari Baoli, Delhi
(Photo: Abhishek Ranjan)

Prem Singh claims he has a Jan Dhan account but so far hasn’t received any financial assistance from the government.

Akhilesh Kumar is a rickshaw-puller outside the Old Delhi station.
(Photo: Abhishek Ranjan)

Akhilesh Kumar is a rickshaw-puller outside the Old Delhi station. He has been plying his rickshaw outside the station for 20 years. He knows that the lockdown is important but has just one request:

“The coronavirus outbreak is a big problem for India. The government should deal with it. But they should also care about the poor and needy.”
Akhilesh Kumar, Rickshaw-puller in Old Delhi

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