The novel coronavirus that first originated in Wuhan province of China has virtually paused the lives of many and has forced them to stay home. ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ campaign trended on twitter except that it won’t apply to the homeless.
Originally from Maina, Faucina Fernandes has been living in the streets of Panaji scavenging for food. As the country goes into lockdown protecting itself from the COVID-19, all Faucina knows that there are no people on the streets and that she has to starve.
Her contemporary, Raju Vellan, who has resorted to begging after working as a daily wage worker for 40 years in Panaji, says he has all the information about coronavirus. Thanks to his pocket radio, he says. When asked about the fear of being infected, he points at the small tube of Vicks vaporub as the solution. While Vellan is optimistic about getting food in the midst of a lockdown, many like him have been isolated from the information regarding the virus.
Take for example Ramesh Rivonkar who often fills his stomach at the exit of the eateries by eating the leftovers. With hotels and restaurants closed, he sees people wearing masks but there is little trace of food he can consume. Even if he wants to leave the city with the money he has saved from the past week’s begging, there are no transport facilities. He is left with the abandoned roads of Goa with no information and food.
Mumbai’s poor are homeless overnight
Similarly, in Mumbai, families that sleep under the flyovers were woken up in the middle of the night by the Police. The families were rudely asked to vacate as the coronavirus scare intensified in the financial capital.
Dhanaji Kale, one of the 30 members who moved to Nalasopara after the police’s orders are concerned about her community. With their business and shelter disturbed, she believes if help does not arrive soon, they might die starving.
A Ray of hope
According to Dr. Mohan Pednekar, the medial superintendent at the North Goa district hospital, despite the homeless being highly prone to infection, it is unlikely that they will be at risk as they are not in the ‘line of fire.’
However, there is some positivity. On Sunday morning, 23-year-old Salim Shaikh of Kalyan set out in his bike carrying packets of biryani pulao and distributed it to the daily wage workers who were deprived of food and money. As he did this, he also made a point to educate them about the outbreak and the necessary do’s and don’t’s. Salim belongs to the Falah-e-Aam, a charitable trust.
While the poor have always been at the receiving end of the accusation of spreading or even giving birth to a disease because of their unhygienic lifestyle, the coronavirus has been carried around the world by the rich who can afford to fly. The irony, however, is that the rich might get through the pandemic but it will be the poor who would suffer once again for their lack of awareness, access, and fate.
As per the data of the Census 2011, there are 57,000 homeless in Mumbai. It is the fortune of the country that none of them have tested positive so far. The struggle of daily wage workers continues to be shelter and food while the rest of the country are in self-isolation and quarantine.