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'We're daily wagers, how will it be okay? Modi isn't going to come home, feed us'

Counterview Desk
A telephonic survey carried out by a group of students and volunteers in the rural areas of six states on the current lockdown situation has found that while there is high awareness about the Covid-19, including its symptoms, how it spreads, and the precautions against its transmission, the shutdown of all public services has had “a negative impact on peoples’ life”, resulting in resulting “insecurity”, causing a lot of “stress.” 
While the survey found isolated cases when respondents reported not eating full meals in order to save (or stretch) their limited food supplies, with some regretting that they had food stocks for less than a week, 15% said they have food for a month, and only another 15% said they had enough for the next 2-3 months.

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A short telephonic survey* was conducted with respondents from rural Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh to learn about their awareness of COVID-19, access to food security and experience of the lockdown. The survey took place in two phases: on March 26-31 and April 4-11, when we spoke with 87 and 40 respondents respectively. The second phase included questions about food rations under the public distribution system (PDS).
Overall, there is fairly widespread awareness about the basics of COVID-19 - its symptoms, how it spreads, and precautions against its transmission. Most respondents are even taking simple precautions to protect themselves and others. However, the promise of doubling foodgrain rations under the public distribution system (PDS) along with providing some dal is yet to be fulfilled for most.
The use of Aadhaar-Based-Biometric-Authentication (ABBA) for PDS, whereby people have to authenticate their fingerprints on a common machine, is also continuing in several states. The halting of economic activity during the lockdown has resulted in a steep fall in earnings for many households.
The shutdown of all other public services has also had a negative impact on peoples’ life. The resulting insecurity and other hardships of the lockdown are causing a lot of stress. One respondent summed up his current situation: “There is fear if you stay at home you'll starve; if you leave the house, you'll get Corona and die”.

Awareness about COVID 19

Most of the respondents were aware of COVID-19. According to 85 respondents, the disease spreads through contact or being in close proximity with people, especially those infected with the virus. Some also implied that the virus was air borne and spreads through sneezing or coughing. The most commonly cited symptoms of COVID 19 include cold, cough, fever and throat ache. Some respondents also mentioned difficulty in breathing, shivering, vomiting and fatigue.
More than two-thirds of the respondents suggested staying at home or avoiding contact with people as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Other suggestions include covering the mouth, not touching the face, washing hands and maintaining hygiene. Most respondents covered their face while stepping out. People are washing their hands, but with widely varying frequency.
In the second Phase, some people from Chhattisgarh, HP, Odisha, MP and UP reported that they still had to use ABBA to authenticate their identities to access their PDS entitlements. The use of a common fingerprint authenticating machine is troubling as it can increase the possibility of COVID-19 transmission and undermines the social distancing efforts.

Food security

At the time of the survey, at least two respondents reported not eating full meals in order to save (or stretch) their limited food supplies. At least eight households had food stocks for less than a week. Fifteen per cent of the respondents had food for a month at the most and another 15 percent (mainly in Himachal Pradesh) had enough for the next 2-3 months.
Most of the other respondents did not give an estimate of how long their current food stock would last. However, many expressed concerns about access to vegetables, oil and spices, even if they had stocks of grains or rice.
The telephonic survey was conducted in rural Chhattisgarh, HP, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha and UP on  food security, lockdown impact
There are wide variations in access to PDS rations across the states for the months of March and April. Even till the last week of March, at least some ration cardholders in every state had not received their ration for the month. The situation seems to be worse in Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Ration distribution for April has begun in most states, but only some reported getting two months’ quota. Also, cardholders are yet to get the 1 kg dal promised by the central government. Even during the lockdown, access to PDS rations remains largely limited to those with a ration card.

Other hardships due to the lockdown

The lockdown has taken a heavy economic toll on people. At least half the respondents clearly stated that their household had experienced a fall in earnings since the lockdown. Even during the second phase survey, many respondents reported that they could not go to work in the fields, find daily-wage work or carry out their self-employment activities.
In Surguja, Chhattisgarh, a daily earner said he was scared of stepping out because he had heard that the police were beating people. This was a common theme, a fear which was repeated in other places too. As one respondent said, "We are daily wagers, how will it be okay? Modi isn't going to come home and feed me".
Some farmers who were able to go to the fields expressed concerns about being able to sell their produce and harvest before it rotted. One person in Odisha told us they were not able to sell vegetables from their fields because of the lack of transport, and respondents in both Gujarat and MP reported that they were not able to sell their harvested grain.
Apart from daily wagers whose earnings have evaporated, other persons’ incomes have also been seriously affected. For example, one person told us that their salon had been closed, and in HP, where households are generally much better off, the lack of tourists has affected the incomes of households who ply taxis, arrange paragliding and homestays.
Some respondents were either stuck in cities away from their village or had family members in that situation. Some men and women are stuck away from their family and spouses, either because of work or because they were at their natal homes.
One person from MP, currently staying in Maharashtra, said he has been allowed to stay by the company malik, but doesn't know if he's going to be paid for the days of closure; another one in Maharashtra (from UP) expressed worries about paying rent and rising prices.
The shutdown in public services has also caused a lot of difficulties. One respondent from HP told us that she was finding it hard to take her sick child to a doctor, because of the lack of public transport and taxis. One respondent told us that her husband had been mistreated by the police when he went to the market to buy medicines.
One respondent was not able to get to the bank, and another respondent told us that when she went to the bank with her passbook to get Rs. 1000, she was told that withdrawing money wouldn't be possible.
Many admitted to feeling distressed, fearful and anxious due to their economic insecurity, the inability to step outside the house and the lack of community life. One woman told us that she was facing domestic violence during the lockdown. In Odisha, one respondent said that, "staying at home with family is a problem in itself”.
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*The phone numbers were collected during the Jaccha-Baccha Survey (JABS), a survey of pregnant and nursing women in rural India (randomly selected among those registered at the local anganwadi) conducted in June 2019. We contacted as many as possible of the JABS respondents who had shared their phone number (in some cases, their husband answered the questions). 
Within the JABS sample, the respondents are likely to belong to relatively better-off households, since the poorest may not have a phone. The calls were made by students and other volunteers: Aditi Dey, Alok Anand, Anmol Somanchi, Ankita Aggarwal, Bhakti Ghatge, Natasha Trivedi, Paroma Bhat, Reetika Khera, Ria Singh Sawhney, Shailja Tandon and Sweta Dash.

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