Daily wage migrant workers generally live hand-to-mouth, earning between 138-449 Indian rupees ($1.84-$5.97) per day, according to the International Labour Organization.
Such workers are faced with an agonizing dilemma: go out to work and risk infection, or stay home and face extreme hunger.
Some workers have no choice. Cleaners, for example, are considered to provide an essential service, and are therefore exempted from the lockdown. “Some even collect hospital waste and then come back and live in these crowded chawls (slums),” said Milind Ranade, the founder of Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh, a Mumbai-based organization focused on labor issues.
They are not given any protective gear, such as masks or gloves, said Ranade, and there has not been an awareness campaign to educate them of the dangers of coronavirus transmission. “What will happen when they fall sick?” Ranade asks.
Mahender is a cleaner for a residential community in Mumbai, earning 5,000 rupees ($66) a month, which he uses to support his wife, three children and his 78-year-old father. “The residents of the building where I clean have been calling me back to work,” he said. “But I have to go into the building, outside each person’s house and collect their trash. I have not been given a mask or gloves, not even a soap to wash my hands before my meals. But I know if I don’t go today, they will hire someone else?”
As of today, India had conducted 34,931 tests, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research — or 19 tests per million people.