04/03/2020, 14.38
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Varanasi migrants: from day laborers to beggars

by Nirmala Carvalho

Ashfaq Alamis, 43, and his mother-in-law Fazila Bibi, 62, are unemployed, without money or food. They risk being evicted. The country's "lockdown" has created a flood of 120 million jobless migrants. "My dignity has also been taken away from me." Premier Modi invites all Indians to light a candle on April 5 at 9pm "to fight the darkness" of the coronavirus.

Varanasi (AsiaNews) - Ashfaq Alamis and his mother-in-law Fazila Bibi are two migrants from Murshidabad (West Bengal). Both came to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) to find work and help their families. Now they are at risk of becoming beggars, with no money, no roof over their head, no chance to help their loved ones.

This is the other side of the "lockdown" model decided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the closure of all non-essential activities and transport for 21 days starting from March 29, in his attempt to stop the coronavirus epidemic.

Ashfaq Alamis, 43, was a day laborer: with a hand-drawn cart he transported objects and food to the city. Now he is out of work. “I worked for five years here in Varanasi - he tells AsiaNews - and now I have had no work for at least 20 days. The lockdown has made me unemployed. But without work I am deprived of everything. We have no money to buy food, we have nothing: the future is truly dark. Previously, in the previous five years, I was able to send money home, to my wife and children to Murshidabad. But now, without work, even my family at home will starve."

Ashfaq's condition mirrors that of day laborers throughout India who were made jobless overnight, without wages, without food, without a home. At least 120 million people across the confederation, left without work, are trying to return to their villages of origin. And since transport has also been halted, many of them face the return journey on foot for routes up to 700 km.

Prime Minister Modi apologized for the "difficulties" that have reduced his "compatriots" to their knees, but guarantees that "with these steps ... India will defeat the coronavirus".

Ashfaq continues: “The government does not give us any help. We are surviving thanks to the food Fr. Anand".

Fr Anand Matthew is the director of Vishwa Jyoti Communications in Varanasi, who has decided to set up a coordination group to help the poorest people in the slums of Varanasi and among the Dalits of the district.

“I was so happy to work, to earn money for my family - continues Ashfaq - Now my dignity has also been taken away and I receive food to survive. Now I don't even have the money to pay the rent and there is the risk of being evicted by the landlord: we will be reduced to homeless beggars. "

Fazila Bibi, 62, Ashfaq's mother-in-law, is even more pessimistic: “For three days I haven't been lighting the fire in my kitchen. I have no food or money to buy something to eat: what is the purpose of lighting the fire? These are terrible days: dark nights and days and with no hope for tomorrow. Of course, these priests [Fr. Anand] are helping us by giving us parcels of food, but how long can we receive charity? There are so many people like us; the fathers must distribute parcels to many families; there are hungry children, and they too must eat to survive. I no longer even have tears to cry. I just hope I don't die before I see my family in Murshidabad again."

Meanwhile, the official figures of the epidemic, to date, register 2301 positive cases and 56 deaths. In a video message released today, the premier invited the entire population to light a candle on the evening of April 5 at 9 pm, with the lights off in their home, for nine minutes, in a demonstration of solidarity "to fight the darkness" of the coronavirus.

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