Urban pangs: Meals get fewer, smaller as savings get stretched for survival | Bengaluru News – Times of India
Sakhi made a good life for herself in Bengaluru over seven years. Arriving from West Bengal at the age of 27, she found work at a beauty parlour and managed to send money to her parents to help them build a house and get her sister married. Two Covid waves and lockdowns later, Sakhi says she’s eating one meal a day now, so she can afford to live in the city and look for a job before her savings run out.
BENGALURU: Sakhi made a good life for herself in Bengaluru over seven years. Arriving from West Bengal at the age of 27, she found work at a beauty parlour and managed to send money to her parents to help them build a house and get her sister married. Two Covid waves and lockdowns later, Sakhi says she’s eating one meal a day now, so she can afford to live in the city and look for a job before her savings run out.
The parlour shut down in April and new jobs are hard to come by in a contact service. “I can’t tell my parents that I have no money to eat. They will panic and borrow to help me. My savings are getting exhausted and I am hoping things will get better when I find a job again,” she says, adding that there are days she makes do with rice and some milk.
Shiva Kumar, 38, an earthmover operator from Kalaburagi district, went home two days before the lockdown and used up all his savings to treat his ailing father. Ten days ago, he came back to Bengaluru to look for a job. “Everyday, I walk 20 to 25km searching for employment. I sleep at railway stations or bus stands… and look for the nearest Indira canteen. There are days when I have only water to drink from the roadside,” he said.
Sakhi and Shiva are among thousands of people on a gradual downward slope leading to a hunger crisis that is building up with every passing day of the lockdown in the tech capital.
According to a study by Azim Premji University (APU), the pandemic has led to a severe decline in earnings for most workers, resulting in a sudden increase in poverty. The ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19’ report says 90% of respondents in a phone survey said their household has reduced food intake due to the lockdown; 20% said food intake had not improved even six months after the lockdown. Many borrowed money or sold whatever assets they had to make ends meet. The study says while government relief has helped avoid the most severe forms of distress, the reach of support measures is incomplete, leaving out some of the most vulnerable workers and households.
The urban poor are having a tough time because when their incomes evaporate and savings disappear, their only option is to cut back on food, says Amit Basole, associate professor of economics at APU and lead author of the report. “Unlike in rural areas, they have no safety net of land or subsistence. The urban population does not have welfare schemes like MNREGA either,” he says.
Rajeev Kumaramkandath, assistant professor of sociology and social work at Christ University says urban poverty is intense but subtle and difficult to grasp. “The impersonal characteristic in urban areas compared to closer-knit rural areas also leads to the higher intensity of urban hunger. In rural areas, there is a communitarian set-up where everyone knows about each other,” he says.
The medical emergency riding on the economic crisis has battered the informal sector, say experts.
“Unlike the first wave when the focus of voluntary activities was around distribution of ration kits and food packets, this year, it is on providing oxygen, and health services,” says D Rajasekhar, professor and head of the Centre for Decentralisation and Development at Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru. “Migrant workers in the city, who do not have a ration card, are either dependent on government support or volunteers distributing food.”
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate in the country as of June 2 is 12.1% overall — 14.8% in urban areas and 11% in rural areas.
Supriya RoyChowdhury, visiting professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, says migrant workers lack a community or network to bank on in cities while back home, they are not entirely untouched by the hunger crisis. “First of all, if there was sustenance there, why would they come to cities? For most, villages are a second home because they cannot afford to house their families in cities. These rural households have little money. It is a myth that rural households are protective spaces for urban migrants,” she says.
Aarushi Gupta, research associate at Social Protection Initiative, Dvara Research, adds that the urban poor, particularly migrants, are alienated from schemes like PDS due to lack of documentation or are simply deemed ineligible due to domicile requirements. “Except for Delhi, most other states are yet to facilitate access to subsidised foodgrain for the non-ration cardholder,” she says.