Milk for the Twins

Milk for the Twins

Meet the twins—Sanja and Sahil. They’ll be turning a year old during the lockdown. But their mother, Gudiya, has no time to think about that. She’s borrowed 2000 rupees (USD26) to feed them and she’s worried it will get over soon.

Gudiya is married to a man who beats her, and doesn’t let her eat. They usually live in Bulandshahar (Uttar Pradesh), which means a great city. Gudiya and her parents won’t agree. They've had to help Gudiya return from the great city back to Delhi because of the physical abuse she was suffering. Her mother, 50, is racked with worry. “We find it impossible to even feed ourselves a proper meal a day. Now we also have the three of them,” she says. At this point, they’re eating one sparse meal every day, from the free kitchen nearby.

The twins can’t eat this. The family is using the loan to buy Amul milk powder costing Rs 205 (around 3 USD) every week for them. There’s an unspoken fear that after this loan is exhausted, the twins will be back to living off a mix of starchy rice water and a sugar solution.   

Gudiya’s father is worried sick too. He’s taken to secretly climbing the landfill to pick waste. “Where will you sell it? All the shops are closed, the market is not functional right now,” we ask the family. But the grand patriarch of this family is optimistic. “Look, if I have something, I'll sell it at any price  when things are normal. But if I pick nothing, then I have nothing to sell.” 

The man was once of elevated status : a cycle-rickshaw puller. Now, he’s 55, and picking trash.

Sitting in their home—a rented slum dwelling that costs them 500 rupees (about 7 USD) a month—they swing between relief and terror. They need this fourth lockdown to be over, so they can earn. But when it’s over, they’ll have to pay back their debt, pay the landlord his dues and feed three extra mouths. Plus, the free kitchen will be closed.

A man tweeted to the municipal commissioner, saying wastepickers were climbing the landfill without protective gear.

He seemed to mean well. 

“The public is complaining,” we tell Gudiya’s mother, about the tweet.

“Well,” she retorts, “tell the public that we are also complaining. We don't want to have this kind of life. We’ve work so hard all our life. It’s our bad luck that we’re still so poor in our old age after all this. Our lives are hardly lives now. Even this little work that we're trying to do, the public is complaining about. We want to work, we aren’t beggars.” 

(The author is Founder & Director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)

(Chintan tracked the landfill foragers, including Gudiya’s father. We ensured they got rations, so they stay safe. Gudiya’s twins also received powdered milk for a month. All this was supplied thanks to generous donations for Chintan’s COVID relief for wastepickers.) 

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