Nepali laborers in India facing food crisis amid lockdown
April 12, 2020 07:34 AM NPT
By: Arun Bam
Over a dozen people are squeezed in a single room and proper diet and sanitation is out of question
DOTI, April 12: Twenty two families from Dipayal Silgadhi Municipality-8 of Doti district are currently stranded in Haliyal, Banglore of India due to the lockdown, imposed by both India and Nepal. Neither are they able to return home, nor do they have enough money and food left to survive in an alienated land. It has been about a month since the daily wage earners are locked inside their rooms. And it is not sure when the situation will be normal.
"Our pockets are almost empty and we don't know when we can go home. We are now increasingly worried if our fate is to die here due to starvation," lamented one of the laborers, Prem Bishwokarma.
The fate of 11 youths from Dogdakedar Rural Municipality of Baitadi who had gone to Pune of India in search of job on February is no different. After quite a struggle, they were recently hired by some hotels. No sooner than they landed a job, the hotels were closed down.
"We thought that it might be reopened in a week or so. We had no money to return home," Dhawalram Luhar of Dogdakedar Municipality – 1 said. "But the lockdown simply prolonged," he added.
Amid this crisis, owner of Ambika Hotel, where two Nepalis used to work since long, extended his helping hands to the stranded youths. He let them live together. Now, all the 13 boys are living in a room at the same hotel.
"We got a room to live. We all are sharing a single room. But we don't have any money for food," Dhawalram said. "Initially, we had some money but all of them have been spent already. A Nepali organization had given us 50 kg of rice so we are cooking meal once a day for our survival," he added.
As alarming numbers of new cases of COVID19 has surfaced in India, it is not likely that the ongoing lockdown would be eased anytime soon. India had first imposed the lockdown for a week and then extended it for 21 days. While the poor laborers have been hardest hit, this includes thousands of people from rural areas of Nepal as well.
According to Ramesh BK of Bogtan Rural Municipality -7, the going is getting tough due to the lack of food. He said they will not be able to manage things any further if the lockdown is extended. "Now the border is closed and both the countries have restricted movement," said Bogtan, who works in Mumbai. "In the beginning, we thought the situation will become normal soon. But we were wrong. Now we are badly trapped," he said.
The Nepalis who described their situation to Republica over phone complained that the Indian government has not been sensitive toward them. Even those who carry 'ration cards' have not been provided enough food, let alone those who lack the cards.
Most of the Nepalis were keeping their fingers crossed that the lockdown would end from April 15. However, they were unaware that the Indian government decided to extend the lockdown, according to media reports, without elaborating how long it will remain in force.
"Everyone is eager to leave. As soon as it seems possible we are going to catch train back home. It's fine even if we are empty stomach, just let us go from here," said BK.
The laborers are ready to compromise for food but have readied fare for bus and train tickets.
Karan Saud of Kailali, who also works in Mumbai, is worried that Nepalis might catch coronavirus even if the situation does not improve. Over a dozen people are squeezed in a single room and proper diet and sanitation is out of question. "Whoever has some money left has been helping out the others and we are sharing rooms. It is going to go worse in the days to come," he said.
Meanwhile, Bhuwan Prasad Bhatta, treasurer of 'Sudurpaschimeli Nepali Samaj' stated that food crisis has already hit the poor Nepalis living in India. Although Nepali organizations have tried to help, they do not have the capacity to fully address the problem. "Nepali organizations here have been distributing 'rasan', but the demand is too high and food crisis is already evident," he said, adding that the embassy of Nepal in Delhi has been reported about the dire situation, though the response has not been that encouraging so far.
"We keep sending emails with the details we have, but we get no reply from the embassy," Bhatta said.
Spokesperson of the embassy Hari Odari admitted that the Nepalis are in dire conditions. However, the embassy has coordinated to ease their lives, he said. "They cannot move out during lockdown. We have requested them to stay safe where they are," said Odari. "Regarding food supply, we have been coordinating through local administration as well as Nepali organizations," he added.
The Prime Minister of Nepal KP Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi communicated over phone on Friday. Nepalis in India have lamented that their issue was not discussed by the leaders.
"Reportedly, our prime minister did not say anything about us. It has made us sad," treasurer Bhatta said.
There are five to six million Nepalis in India as per the data of the Indian government. However, no one has the authentic figure.