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How lockdown is melting down

How lockdown is melting down

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A week into the nationwide lockdown, social distancing doesn’t seem to be happening the way the authorities had hoped it would. A stroll in an urban village in Delhi Tuesday showed that life as usual—well, almost usual.

It’s not that people are not aware of the deadly coronavirus or they don’t care about precautions in the village I visited yesterday. They maintain distance; the streets are not bustling with people; but it is quite apparent that people have not drawn a lakshman rekha at their doorsteps, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged them to in his address to the nation. At any rate, if they have drawn any rekha, they are breaching it.

Just outside the village, a group of rickshaw pullers is whiling away their time. Like many others at the bottom of the pyramid, they live in the village—small, dingy, rooms that several men share with each other, the dwellings little better than slums.

Any income these days? “Very little. When somebody wants to go to market, we earn something, but it’s inadequate,” says Manoj, a young man in the group.

What about the promises made by the Central and state governments? About the Rs 1.7-lakh crore package, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced for the poor a few days ago? The pledges Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been making so grandly? The appeals made by the powers that be that the poor should be spared of rent, salary cuts, etc.? Has any of the promises translated into reality?

“No,” everybody says in unison. They have only disdain about the grand statements made by politicians.

Babulal, an elderly rickshaw puller, points out that the appeal was not to waive off rent but stagger it. “We will have to pay the entire sum but in installments,” he says.

How they feed themselves? “It is distributed, but it usually gets delayed,” complains Manoj.

Is social distancing observed during food distribution? “Not at all,” says Babulal. “There are so many people. The place gets crowded.”

His parting shot: “Corona may or may not kill us, but hunger will.”

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