In view of the rising daily COVID19 cases and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic, the BJP ruled Karnataka State Government had initially announced a “closedown” for 14 days starting from April 27. Later on, a complete lockdown was imposed in the state from May 10 to May 24 which was further extended to June 7 without taking into consideration the issues of most of the workers.
In a complete disregard to the economic difficulties that lockdowns had brought last year for the majority of the working classes, this year’s lockdown also was not accompanied by any plan of action to provide assistance to those whose lives and livelihoods were affected by it.
Amidst building criticism of the lockdown and the incompetence of the BJP government both at the state and central level towards the working-class communities, a COVID Second Wave Support Package was announced by the Karnataka State Government. The package itself excluded a large chunk of the working-class communities from the monetary compensation.
To protest against the government’s apathy towards worsening conditions of the working-class communities due to an economic and health crisis, a state-wide protest was organized by CPI(ML) Liberation jointly with CPI, CPIM, SUCI(C), AIFB, Swaraj India, and RPI on June 1.
Both Lives and Livelihoods Must Be Saved
With the slogan “Save Lives and Safeguard Livelihoods,” the working-class population from various sectors including the street vendors, powrakarmikas, migrant waste pickers, ready-mix concrete workers, hospital and housekeeping workers, plantation workers, and landless laborers protested across Bengaluru, Mysuru, Kodagu, Mangaluru, Koppal, Raichur, Ballari, Vijayanagar, Kolar, and other districts.
Maitreyi Krishnan, an advocate and a member of CPI-ML (L)’s Karnataka State Committee told Gauri Lankesh Media that “not only is the government’s relief package exclusionary to the migrant workers but exclusionary to the majority of the workers.”
According to the All India Central Council of Trade Union (AICCTU) out of 255 lakh workers, only 10 lakh workers will receive compensation. Furthermore, amongst other problems, the package has no provision for dry ration distribution for those who do not have ration cards excluding lakhs of workers.
The extension of the lockdown has exacerbated the economic distress under which the workers have been since the first lockdown. There has been a huge loss of livelihoods and with no other source of income or any kind of monetary assistance provided by the government, the savings of the workers are getting exhausted.
Migrant Workers Are Left With No Food and Money
Amish*, a Bengali migrant who worked as a waste-picker but was pushed out of work when the lockdown in Karnataka began said they are left with almost no money and food has become a major issue.
Living in the Hebbal Kempapura locality in Bengaluru, Amish* said that there are more than 600 people, mostly Bengali migrant workers who are in dire need of food and income and added that “a few days back, the government gave us 46 packets of ration for distribution. We are more than 600 in number here, how are we supposed to divide the food amongst us?”
Please see the protest by members of the migrant waste picker community in Kempapura. They are demanding that they either be permitted to work or ration assistance be given to them. pic.twitter.com/HCH94Ctvgq
— AICCTU Karnataka (@aicctukar) June 2, 2021
The Karnataka State Government had announced that between May 12 and May 24th the Indira Canteens all around the state will provide free food to the
Another migrant worker from the same area told the Gauri Lankesh News that the nearest Indira Canteen where the State Government provides free food to needy people. But Pyarelal*, another Bengali migrant worker from the same locality said that the “nearest Indira Canteen is more than 10kms far from where we live. How can we travel that far in a lockdown? We have not been able to have food even once from the canteen.”
“Our usual work has stopped since the lockdown started. We can’t even go out to look for something else because the police will beat us up if they find us walking on the road during the lockdown,” he added.
What are the Protestors Demanding?
The protesting workers have put forth five major demands including provision for free COVID19 treatment and medical requirements along with free universal vaccination and special protection for frontline and healthcare workers. Demands for direct cash transfer of Rs. 10,000, free rations to all irrespective of whether one is a ration cardholder or not.
Since the lockdown has led to the closure of industries, construction work, and other sectors, a large number of workers have lost their jobs and are barely able to make ends meet. In this regard, the protestors have demanded that 200 days of guaranteed employment for workers including those in urban areas must be provided.
The protesting workers also reiterated that the BJP led Central Government must repeal the three new farm laws and labour codes which have been passed keeping in the center the profit motives of the corporate and completely sidelining the safeguards for the farmers and workers.
Meanwhile, contradictory statements have emerged from the side of the Karnataka State Government about the unlocking process. The Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan on Tuesday assured that the lockdown restrictions will be eased phase-wise starting June 7, news agency PTI reported.
On the other hand, Health Minister K Sudhakar said that the state’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has recommended that the unlocking process can begin only after daily fresh cases are below 5,000, Live Mint reported. No official statement about the same has been issued yet.
The names of the respondents have been changed.