COVID-19 Second wave: Narratives from the Ground
India is suffering one of the biggest crises in history, and it is not just restricted to COVID-19. Given the lack of basic services for the country’s marginalised population, including water supply, millions are unable to experience a basic and dignified form of living. Water shortage and the lack of sanitation facilities are deadly shortcomings of our health infrastructure that have worsened the effects of the pandemic.
Meena, who stays in a basti (informal settlement) near Aurora Talkies, Matunga, Mumbai, with her husband and five children, was born and brought up in Mumbai and worked alongside her husband in decorating event venues, mainly for weddings. She can use coconut leaves to make intricate decorations, and would offer support to his work from home. None of these event halls are open now. She and her husband both lost their source of income due to the pandemic.
‘अब एक भी काम नहीं है — बाहर नहीं निकल सकते है । बस्ती में सब के लिए दिक्कत है । जिनका भी काम बहार है उनका बांध’
Now there is no work, we cannot go out. Everyone is facing challenges in the basti. Whoever worked outside, their work has stopped now.
In the pandemic, when handwashing and basic hygiene are the first line of defence, Meena and her neighbours are unable to access clean water and safe toilets. Earlier, they would get water from a neighbouring basti, but that tap recently broke. Now, they wake up around 3am everyday and try to source water from wherever they can. They also had a community toilet but it was demolished a month ago for unknown reasons. They tried to conduct an enquiry on it, but no information has come up so far. Currently, they use a paid toilet facility ahead of Aurora Talkies (Rs 3 to use the toilet, Rs 10 for a bath) — but it closes at 11pm and is especially risky for females at night. These paid washrooms are usually far from people’s houses, and are an additional daily expense for many, often leading to open defecation.
Meena has 4 daughters and 1 son, Two of the daughters are married, while the other three children — 2 girls who are 12 years old and 15 years old, and a 17 year old son — live with them. Unfortunately, their education has been interrupted due to a lack of amenities. Online education requires parents to buy a smartphone. However, for many that is a luxury that cannot be afforded or even considered. The phone Meena’s family did have got stolen in the basti. Meena shares, empathising with her children’s helplessness, ‘Children stay home the entire day, there is nothing that they can do about it’. The youngest daughter has a friend in the basti who she occasionally meets.
Once during the lockdown, a bulldozer ran over her daughter’s foot. The bulldozer operator took her to a health centre so she could be treated there. Meena mentions how the bigger clinics are even more inaccessible to them now. She and her family are not hesitant to take the vaccine, but she says that there has been no proper guidance and awareness about the vaccination and that the government should be more responsible to take charge and make the locality aware about it. ‘टीवी में थोड़ा देखा है — ज़रूरी है तो लेना ही है‘ (We have seen a bit on TV, if it is important then we must take it).
Meena is also a community leader, and has helped distribute food packets once a day over the past weeks to members in need. Even though ration shops were available, the supplies were inadequate to fulfil the basic appetite of her family of 6. Meena shared that proper concern and care needs to be shown for marginalised communities at this time. It has been difficult for all, but they are the most vulnerable. ‘हर किसी को प्रॉब्लम है । सरकार को सबको देखना चाहिए — जहां पब्लिक है वह नहीं आते है’ (Everyone has problems. The government should look after everyone, they don’t come where the masses are).
This is the seventh story in a series of interviews we are conducting with community members, to bring to light the onground situation during the second wave of COVID-19. You can also catch up on the earlier stories here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Contributed by Aaditya Chavan, Amrutlal Betwala and Niyoshi Parekh