Other States

Pandemic throws life out of gear for Bhopal residents

A vegetable-seller in Bhopal on Wednesday

A vegetable-seller in Bhopal on Wednesday  

People came out on the roads, scrambling to grocery stores in preparation for the long haul

Lockdowns are not novel for Bhopal residents. Gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide unit in 1984 pushed thousands to the city’s fringes, while the 1992 riots following Babri Masjid demolition crippled daily life and left streets deserted for days beneath a hazy sky filled with smoke.

But this time, the lockdown, necessitated by the COVID-19 scare, is different. Restraining outdoor activity and avoiding touch is coupled with the enduring uncertainty of its end and the lingering fear of the obscure disease, which is much scarier for its imperceptible ubiquity.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nationwide lockdown from Tuesday midnight, Bhopal residents disgorged onto roads, scrambling to salvage groceries, medicines and dairy products from shops to prepare for a 21-day isolation, essential to contain the virus spread. Lights beaming from shops offered a glimmer of hope, contrasting with the harsh reality of lives turning upside down.

“Malik says this will continue for days, and we have to abide by government orders and stop work,” said Raju Kumar, a construction worker, who makes ₹350 a day.

“Ever since demonetisation, we have stopped saving cash anyway,” said Mr. Kumar, whose family is now dependent on neighbours for essentials.

The recent political turmoil delayed the necessary response to tackle the virus spread, as the State got lucky in bearing its share of the virus burden a little later. Still, numbers are spiralling, with 15 cases recorded in five days since March 20.

Fearing infection, more than 25 families have cancelled their newspaper subscriptions, rues Harbajan Vishwamitra, a large-scale vendor, who made ₹30,000 a month, but is incurring a loss of ₹5,000 now. “Many have asked my boys to leave the copies on tables they've placed outside doorsteps. They'll pick them after 12 hours once the virus perishes, they say.”

At a locality on the Kolar Road here, residents are wary of domestic workers crossing the doorstep. “We make sure our maid uses a hand sanitiser before entering, and our infant daughter doesn't come too close to her,” said Rahul Chouksey, a guest faculty member at a journalism university.

However, families are going a step further in another part of Bhopal - 11 Number Market - by saying no to domestic workers until the disease subsides. Dwarka Devi, 64, a domestic worker for 15 years, and who makes ₹5,500-6,000 a month, says, “They have asked me to stay away but I am not sure if I'll still get paid. My savings are drained, and this uncertainty makes it worse.”

Even Mr. Chouksey’s fate is no different. As a guest faculty member, he makes ₹350 for each of the four lectures every day and ₹ 200 as travelling and dearness allowance. Yet, no classes since March 16 mean no pay since then.

Admission anxiety

With the admission schedule pushed back, Smiti Johri, who completed MBBS from Mumbai and took a gap-year to prepare and take the NEET PG, is grappling with anxiety. “The counselling process is online, but there is uncertainty surrounding the date of joining,” she says, “Delaying it further might disturb the academic calendar and impair our chances of opting for a super speciality course later, which has a strict eligibility criteria.”

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:21:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/pandemic-throws-life-out-of-gear-for-bhopal-residents/article31168209.ece

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