Coronavirus lockdown: Despite Delhi CM’s claims, people of Haiderpur basti remain hungry for days

Despite announcements by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal about ration reaching the poor, there are at least 20,000 people in Haiderpur Basti, who have hardly eaten a single meal for more than 3 days

Coronavirus lockdown: Despite Delhi CM’s claims, people of Haiderpur basti remain hungry for days

Ashlin Mathew

Despite various announcements by the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal about ration and food reaching the poor in the city, it remains woefully unplanned on the ground. There are at least 20,000 people in Haiderpur Basti, near Shalimar Bagh, who have hardly eaten a single meal for more than three days.

For a few days now, the people in the area have been complaining and attempting to reach out to the authorities so that they ensure delivery of food during the nation wide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus spread. When there was no response, they got out on the streets on Saturday and on Sunday.

“How are we expected to live? We are a family of six, of which four are children. They cry every night out of hunger. What can I give them? When the lockdown was announced, we had some things at home, now it’s all over. And we hardly have money to buy food. The CM has been announcing that food is being delivered to everyone. It is a lie. We are starving,” asserted Sehnaj. She used to cook food in a hospital, but ever since the lockdown, she has been without a job. Her husband is a daily wage labourer.

The Delhi government on Saturday announced that it had provided lunch and dinner to around 6.5 lakh people at 1,500 food distribution centres across the city. The government also received 1,040 calls requesting for supply of food, a statement released by the government said.

"We are feeding 3.5 lakh-4 lakh people daily until now, and we will start feeding 10-12 lakh people from tomorrow. Upon further deliberations on this, we found out that people were crowding at the food centres. So we decided to create more centres," Kejriwal had said.

However, their claims do not match the reality on ground. “In a school nearby, they provide a meal, but that too is rationed. They give food that is meant for one person to four people. How many people can eat it? We eat half of a roti to stay alive. Did the government think of any of this before announcing the lockdown? We have never got dinner or even lunch from the Delhi government,” said a distraught Sehnaj.

For more than three days now, the residents of Haiderpur have hardly eaten. They have also been worried about paying their rents as most people in the basti are tenants. “The government has been announcing on the radio that they are doing a lot. We are proof that there is a world of difference between what they are saying and what is happening on the ground. We have been living in Delhi for more than 15 years, but yet we do not have a ration card. We are tenants, so who will give us any proof. We have an Aadhaar Card, but is also pointless,” said Suman, who has two children and a husband, who works at a kirana store. But, ever since the lockdown, he has not been able to go.

“Moreover, how will we pay the rent. On the 10th of every month, the building owner will appear demanding the rent. He will come this month too. Shouldn’t the Delhi government take care of our rents? How are we going to pay it? We can either eat or have a roof above our heads. If we don’t get out on the road, who will listen to us,” added Sanju, who is a homemaker. She has a family of six to feed, including her husband. He was a daily wage labourer and now he has no job.

All of their children go to the school to ensure that they can pack at least some food, but even that doesn’t help. “Those at school, scream at the children if they come with an adult and they scream at the adult stating that the food is for children. What are we supposed to do? If our children are at the back of the line, they will not get food. They stop distributing even if everyone has not got it,” cried Sanju.

Several social workers reached the area to help the people with food. “I reached there as soon as I heard about it three days ago. We requested people to go back home. But, I understand why they are on the road. We have been calling the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, so they got some food two days ago. But all the families did not get. We called the person on Sunday too and the response was the same. Since I was there requesting people to go back home, now the police has filed an FIR under Section 188 (disobedience to order given by a public servant). I was at the Shalimar Bagh police station all day and they just left me go an hour ago,” said Poonam Kaushik, an advocate.

The families are worried that they will die of starvation, rather than the virus, added Kaushik. “They haven’t had a proper meal for 15 days. They ration the food they get. They have no money to buy any more. Most people in Haiderpur basti are tenants, so they do not have ration cards either. This makes it impossible to get ration from the government,” underscored Kasuhik.

Suman said even though they understood why they should not be out on the streets, their realityis quite different. “They are rooms here where more than six people live, so we are living in close quarters. Even the policemen do not try to understand that we are out on the roads because of our hunger. How long can we see our children cry? The police begin to beat us without checking if it is woman, man, child or senior citizen. Is this what the police is supposed to do? They should understand our plight. We are human beings too,” said Suman tearfully.

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