On Wednesday, March 25th, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a curfew for all 1.3 billion inhabitants in response to the increasing number of patients with COVID-19. Two days earlier, WSM's Indian partners called on the Prime Minister in an open letter to pay attention to the most vulnerable workers in the informal economy, who make up 92% of all workers and do not receive a substitute income.
India is the second most populous country in the world after China. Its population is very susceptible to the spread of the coronavirus due to several factors: hygiene, a lack of hospital beds (0.5 per thousand inhabitants, about eleven times less than in Belgium), overcrowded slums, a lack of medical protection, too few tests and slow reaction by the government.
Previously, regional restrictions had already been introduced. In their open letter, [MB1] our partners welcomed the initiatives taken by the public health services and the government, but they also pointed out that these measures do not protect workers in the informal sector: "In the absence of universal social protection for all workers and their families, especially for the workers in the unorganised sectors, they are left with no alternatives and still largely go about their work.”
For example, if you live from seasonal agriculture, you still have to go out on the field to earn a daily wage and be able to feed your family. Housekeepers, construction workers and migrant workers also put their lives at risk for the survival of their families. The difficult tasks they perform on a daily basis are made almost impossible in corona time.
In India, 8000 children die of hunger every day. Without effective measures and stronger social protection, poor and vulnerable workers and their families are being abandoned even more, and the number of deaths by starvation is likely to exceed the number of deaths due to COVID-19.
"We still wait for leaders who understand this and come out with definite and proactive plans that take into account the vast majority of the population: precarious workers in the unorganized sectors and their families. Instead of waiving of millions of rupees to corporations, a few million will help these vulnerable people to meet their daily needs. It is regrettable that the Indian government has not increased its disaster relief fund and announced other economic support in response to the urgent needs".
Some regional governments have already taken steps, for example in Uttar Pradesh it was announced that each poor family will receive 15,000 rupees and free meals will be distributed in public schools in New Delhi. However, these measures only help a minority of the population.
“Hence we request the Prime Minister, to take necessary action by way of providing social protection for all, especially for the most vulnerable unorganized laborers. In the short term, during the COVID-19 crisis, we request a minimum of 20,000 rupees to be sent to all adults of the vulnerable population in India.”
The open letter [MB2] of March 21st was written by L.A. Samy of AREDS, member of the steering committee of the Asian Network for the Right to Social Protection (ANRSP), on behalf of the Indian network and partners: ANRSP, Christian Workers Movement, National Domestic Workers Movement India, Confederation of Free Trade Unions India, International Network for a Human Economy Asia, Tamil Nadu Land Rights Federation, Tamil Nadu Pondicherry, Society of Women in Acion for Total Empowerment, Water and Livelihood Rights Federation, Karur All Labour Union, and Tamil Nadu Conservancy workers Federation Chennai.
Today, some 2 billion people work in the informal economy; more than 1.6 billion of them are affected by the lockdown, particularly in terms of income.
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