Life becomes little easy for numbers of family in Delhi. (Photo Credit: News Nation Photo)
Electricians, plumbers, part-time house helps and other workers took tentative steps back to work on Monday as large parts of India, including the national capital, entered the third phase of the lockdown with curbs eased in some places. As spring slipped into summer and the lockdown, which began on March 25, continued, people waited eagerly for electricians to service air-conditioners, plumbers to repair washing machines and broken taps, domestics to get back for the deep cleaning that never did get done and a host of other urgent jobs.
On the other end of the spectrum were the band of workers, trained in myriad necessary jobs that keep the household machine going smoothly, who found themselves without jobs and money. Many of them, like Manoj Koli, an electrician for over 20 years, said they were reduced to scrambling for food and the lifting of some lockdown restrictions will hopefully mean a semblance of normalcy. 'I haven't earned a single rupee since March 21. It will be difficult to get back to work until electrical shops selling spare parts like wires and sockets also open. It is still too early to tell,' Manoj told PTI.
'With some electrical shops now open, that problem should hopefully be resolved. But I should get some work before all of that,' the electrician, who lives in south Delhi's Dakshninpuri locality with his parents, wife and children, added. The lockdown, to curtail the spread of coronavirus, has been extended for two weeks till at least May 17. Several restrictions have been lifted and several remain.
Declaring that the time had come to reopen Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday evening, "Self-employed people like technicians, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, sanitation workers, domestic helps, and people involved with laundry and ironing are allowed to work." Navigating the coronavirus crisis, which has pushed Indians into the four walls of their homes, has been traumatic for everybody, but most of all perhaps for those like Manoj who depend on their everyday work to make a living.
He said the pandemic could not have come at a worse time. Every April, he would be flooded with calls for AC servicing and repairs from his clients and could manage to make as much as Rs 40,000 a month. This year, the calls didn't come and neither did the money. There are lakhs of people like Manoj. According to Rajesh Kumar of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the Delhi government does not have any official records of the numbers of unorganised skilled labour, including plumbers, electricians and carpenters. But it could be as high as six-seven lakh.
The government should have created a record of these people before announcing a lockdown. It is understandable that the lockdown has been extended, but the government should have also been prepared with solutions for the problems of all kinds of people in the state, the IFTU general secretary said. Subhash Mohanty, a plumber, said he is grateful he could procure the Delhi government's rations soon after the lockdown was announced. There has been no work for the last one month. I got some calls for work in the last few days, but I had to turn them down because there is a coronavirus case in my area, and I cannot step out of here,' Mohanty, who stays in Tughlakabad Extension with his wife and two children, said.
The last few weeks have been an emotional and financial drain for those like Kobita who came back to work on Monday to clean and cook in homes. During the lockdown period, I tried to go to some of my employers' houses to collect my salary but was stopped by police. Today, many junctions, opened up, and it was a relief. I was getting worried that many of my employers won't call me back at all, said Kobita, who works in Chittaranjan Park in south Delhi.