A Bleak Future

A Bleak Future

“There is no coal to fire these. Due to the lockdown no coal is reaching us. It is just a matter of 10 days and then the ‘factory’ will stop. If this stops, we are out of our jobs.”  

The ‘factory’ is the brick kiln where Shankar Badhai works. Shankar came from Jharkhand’s Gumla district in October 2019 to work at a brick kiln in Danapur, Patna. His family — wife, 3 children and his mother — is back home and he is unable to go home due to the lockdown.

The sole bread winner of his family, Shankar lives at the brick kiln with six other labourers from Jharkhand; there are nearly 2000 workers from Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of Bihar who are stranded at this brick kiln cluster (there are about 7-8 such brick kilns) and are unable to go back home.

Oxfam India met him just a couple of days before the third lockdown period was announced. He had said that while a part of the factory was still operational, if the lockdown were to continue it would completely shut down. Right now, he still has his wages of Rs 400 a week, if the brick kiln shuts down, they will have no work and no money.

“We have money and some rice for a few days. But we cannot get any vegetables or any condiments because the shops are shut. We can’t use the money we have,” Shankar tells Oxfam India. 

To make matters worse if anyone were to fall sick during this time, they would have to walk 10 kms to reach the nearest hospital. “We have no transportation, and nothing is plying on the streets. No one has fallen sick yet, but it will certainly be a problem if one does.”

Shankar gets Rs 400 per week for food i.e. about a measly Rs 19 per meal (assuming he eats 3 meals a day). He sends some money home, although even after a lot of probing he simply said he will get his complete payment only when he leaves. He is not sure what is full payment would be. His family relies entirely on his earnings to get by.

It was announced that an amount of Rs 500 will be deposited in the Jan Dhan Accounts of the women account holder, Shankar has no idea about the scheme. “I have a bank account but don’t know about the scheme.” It is likely that his wife neither has a bank account nor will she get the Rs 500 from the government back home. Data shows that 20% of adults don’t have bank accounts and 54% of women’s Jan Dhan accounts were inactive.  

Shankar Badhai is worried and staring at a bleak future. On the one hand, the conundrum remains that when he does get his final payment should he spend it on trying to get back home or simply send the money to his family, and on the other does this full and final payment mean that he no longer will have a job.

For the moment, Oxfam India has distributed dry ration kits to 135 families at the brick kiln where Shankar lives. The kit containing, rice, flour, pulses, turmeric powder, child powder, salt, edible oil and soybean. These kits should take care of the families for about 20-30 days.

In Patna, dry ration kits have been distributed to 2070 families since the lockdown began. Oxfam India has ensured that the kits are given to the most marginalised in the community — stranded migrant workers, informal sector workers, rag pickers, beggars, and the homeless.  

As part of the COVID-19 response, Oxfam India is responding in 14 states with cooked meals, dry ration kits, PPE and Safety kits, and mass awareness campaigns.

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