“All I had was Rs 25,000 cash. All the money has now been spent on rent and food during the lockdown. There is nothing left now. I don’t know how I will manage. Because of the economic distress, I have no other option left but to commit suicide,” read the suicide note left behind by Raghubir Singh (52), who hanged himself on June 22.
Two weeks after the suicide, his widow was still in a state of shock. She is clueless how she would provide for her family comprising a son and three daughters, aged 17, 15 and 11 years.
But what about the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much vaunted Garib Kalyan Yojana? Aren’t the poor and the jobless being supplied with foodgrains? "We don't have a ration card, despite numerous applications to the district officials,” explains the widow.
There are many dalit families in Agra, who do not seem to have benefited from the ambitious Rs 1.70 lakh Crore Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, as part of which free food grains and cash payment (to women and poor senior citizens and farmers) are being provided to help the most vulnerable Indians tide over the economic distress unleased by the lockdown.
"Nearly 80 Crore Indians will benefit from the free foodgrains being provided by the government," Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed in his televised address on June 30. Not only free foodgrains, none of the Dalits in the locality have received any sort of financial assistance, also part of the Garib Kalyan Package. "More than 42 crore poor people received financial assistance of Rs 65,454 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package," the government had said in a press release on June 20.
The Jatavsattribute a political motive to the indifference. " They know that mostly Jatavs live in these areas and they somehow believe we didn’t vote for the BJP," alleges Rajesh, adding vehemently that allof them did vote for ‘Modiji’.
"People from other communities living in Agra's working class localities are receiving foodgrains and financial assistance,” he points out. " But over here, the administration hasn't even given us a ration card," he complains. "In my family, neither I nor my son, who is married, has a ration card," he laments.
At least a dozen daily wage earners living in the area have the same complaint. "I don't have a ration card either. I am borrowing on a daily basis. There are many like us,” says Ram Singh, who lives in Jagdishpura.
Holding up a container with only a handful of flour left, Radhika, in her fifties, claims that she is buying just enough to feed herself and her ailing husband. "I am borrowing money from my relatives so that we don't starve. Without a ration card, we are not entitled to rice and chanadal that the government is distributing," says Radhika."Go to any home here. Most of them will have the same story to tell," she says.
Anand Prakash, who owns a small leather manufacturing unit which employs around 15 workers when fully functional, explains that each worker would take home on an average Rs 4000 as wage every month before the lockdown. "Four thousand Rupees were just enough to sustain a family of four to five people. But it was a hand to mouth existence. The workers needed to keep working in order to provide regular meals. Since the leather units shut down during the three months of lockdown, they had no other means of subsistence," he informs.
"Availing a loan to keep the business afloat is complicated and almost impossible for small businesses like ours. Even then, business owners here are helping out the workers financially as much as we can," he claims, warning that this wouldn’t last long.
"With few buyers, units have already started laying off workers. A leather worskhop which employed 50 workers can now manage with just 20 of them. They are also being underpaid, since the owners know that they would work for less,” he said.
Sonu Bharti has a word of caution for the state government. "The government should understand that leather industry is the backbone for Agra's economy. Thirty per cent of the country's leather shoes were until last year manufactured in Agra, many of them for export.”
Suresh Chand Soni, a lawyer who heads the non-profit Support India, claims Raghbur's suicide isn't the only suicide induced by economic distress after the lockdown. More suicides will take place, he cautions, if relief is not streamlined.