SRINAGAR: When Corona Curfew was imposed by the administration early this month, Ali Muhammad Kaw knew what was in store for his family: the beginning of a long period of starvation.
The only financial caretaker of his six-member family — a wife and four daughters — his anxiety began the moment his supervisor at work ordered him to stay at home.
Kaw worked as a labourer at a construction site in uptown Srinagar.
“I have been sitting at home since then, without getting paid. My finances are exhausted. I fear even to think about what it means to sit at home without work,” he told Kashmir Reader.
Kaw earned about Rs 700 a day, for 24 days in a month, from which he has to feed his family, pay for his children’s school fees, medicine for his wife and for himself. He cannot keep anything for rainy days, like those of a pandemic.
Now Eid is here, and the poverty is at its most acute.
Kaw’s problems are compounded by his principles which prevent him from accepting help offered by good samaritans around. He believes that as long as he is fit to eork, he is not eligible for charity.
One of the office-bearers of a nearby community organisation told Kashmir Reader that Kaw refused to accept monetary help from them. “He took it so seriously that he did not even speak to us,” he said.
Last year during the months-long lockdown amid the first wave of the pandemic, Kaw had reduced his four meals a day to two. Finally he was able to return to work and life was back on track.
Kaw is not the only one in this pandemic fighting for survival. Abdul Hameed, whose daily work fetches him Rs 800, is another. He spends it on food for his family, monthly medicine, fees for his student son, and saves part of it for winter months during which he gets no work.
In 2019 a six-month lockdown imposed after the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir ate away at his winter savings. He had to cut expenses to meet his food and medicine requirements.
“The corona lockdown has taken a severe toll. We can neither earn for the day, nor can we save for the winter. The education of my children is suffering. I can manage my expenses for only two more days. Who will take care of me after that?” Hameed said. He did not elaborate on how he has been managing for a month now.
A number of voluntary organisations have been offering food amid this time. However, a number of people like Kaw and Hamid refuse to accept.
“Life is a challenge. I have not seen so many workless days in my life. We have never accepted help. We will either die, or fight for survival,” Kaw said.
About 1.76 lakh construction workers are registered with the government who live a hand-to-mouth existence. Their struggle is much like Kaw and Hameed’s.