On the brinks of no tomorrow
“We have not been able to go to the temple for more than two months now”, says Ramdas. Going to the temple is the only option that he and his wife, Subadramma, have to collect some rupees, and it becomes impossible when the country struggles to contain a devastating second wave. Years ago, it could be 15 or it could be 20, one morning Ramdas left home to buy a bottle of kerosene, otherwise they would have no light in their hut that night. It was raining. It was raining a lot. And he slipped. Subadramma narrates this with a broken voice and cannot fathom how or why he fell. She just remembers spending three months in the hospital, seeing her husband in bed, from where he could not move. “The doctors told us that he would never be able to stand up without help again, and I could only think about how we were going to make a living.” She had been unable to work for years due to an accident she suffered and which still causes her severe pain in the back and knees. Begging is their only choice.
In March 2021, on any given day the couple began their journey to the temple like every other morning. “When our neighbors saw us, they ran out of their houses and told us not to go”, explains Subadramma. Few days ago, television channels and newspapers began to warn of a fatal resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Ramdas confesses that he wanted to keep going to the temple because there, besides getting a few rupees, the devotees offered them idlis, bananas, and some clothes for their family. If they stopped going, they would depend solely on the daily wages of their 16 year-old daughter, who works four days a week in a brick kiln. At the same time, he feared for his health. “We decided to stay at home, and although the money my daughter earns is not enough, at least we can survive”, admits Ramdas.
The couple expresses their gratitude to the gods because this year a total lockdown was not declared. They need their daughter to be able to continue working, and they don’t want to relive the uncertainty of last year. “We couldn’t leave the house, we couldn’t go to the temple, and my daughter couldn’t go to work”, explains Subadramma with tears in her eyes. When on the night of March 24, 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced a total lockdown, they ran out of options. They were not sure whether they would be able to eat the next day or not. And like them, thousands of families in India – 195 million people – depend on the wages they earn the day before. If they don’t go to work today, there is no food for tomorrow; there is nothing.
“Thanks to the food that the Foundation gave us, we are alive,” Ramdas says in a soft voice, emphasizing on the quantity of food they received. “They gave us food three times a day. Three. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, a serving for each of us “, he repeats with a glimmer of enthusiasm that peeks out from his usual composure. In the face of one of the worst consequences of the pandemic: hunger, the Foundation cooked and distributed 10,000 meals a day for three months.
This year, amidst a devastating second wave, Andhra Pradesh declared a curfew on the morning of May 5, from 12 noon to 6 a.m. This has allowed Ramdas and Subadramma’s daughter to continue working for a few hours and maintaining part of her income, while drastically reducing movement in cities and gathering of crowds. This alternative has allowed thousands of families in India to move forward without the fear of going to sleep with an empty stomach, while simultaneously being the epicentre of one of the worst waves of COVID-19 worldwide. Would stricter measures have prevented this terrifying tsunami of Covid-19 cases, or would it have left 80% of the workforce which works in the economy’s informal sector without resources and a future?