On the banks of the Yamuna on Wednesday, the silence is broken by a voice from a radio hanging outside a straw hut: “Listen to the government. We have to stay inside our homes for 21 days. 21st Century India needs 21 days…”
The hut belongs to Lotan Chaudhary (50), a farmer living on the Yamuna floodplains near Chilla village. Switching off the radio and tending to his goat, he says: “This goat gives us milk. When everything runs out, there will always be milk.”
The impact of the 21-day lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak has reverberated through the floodplains, home to several hundred families who mostly grow vegetables for local markets in East Delhi.
Over the last two weeks, most of their crop has rotted away as they were unable to sell it in markets. Ram Chander Mahal (35) had grown brinjals on his two bighas of land and was expecting to sell it at Rs 40 per kg. “For 11 days, I waited to sell my brinjals; they are rotten now. I only have some left for my family,” he says.
Most farmers had grown spinach, fenugreek, coriander, cauliflower and brinjal.
Ramesh (51), another farmer, says he didn’t eat for two days until a Delhi Police constable gave him a packet of puris. “I am now going to grow okra. It will take me three months, that is the only problem. Zyada time nahi hai,” he says.
Even though many houses are equipped with a hand pump, the water is not fit for consumption. Many residents walk till Ashok Nagar to fetch water and, if fortunate, some packets of food that are being distributed.
Vikas Mandal (24) woke up at 6 am and took over seven hours to fill four cans of water at Ashok Nagar and return home. “I was hungry yesterday. At Ashok Nagar, they said not to worry about food (as it was being distributed in packets there)… But my family should not die of thirst,” he says.
To get basic supplies, residents have to walk for over an hour, navigating through the lush green fields and through several police checkpoints, before they reach local markets in Chilla village.
Around 2 pm, two men, residents of Chilla village, reach the floodplains on a bike and distribute puris wrapped in newspaper. One of the men, Rakesh, says, “Apne log hain toh aa gaye, warna koi nahi poochta.”
On the other hand, Rishipal (57), who has set up a milk shop on the floodplains, is seeing brisk business. He sold 26 litres of milk since morning for sale in Delhi. “I can’t sell it here because these people can’t afford it,” he says.
A little further down, near the Mayur Vihar flyover, around 200 ragpickers live on the river bank. A group of women squat under the shade of a tree, picking empty liquor bottles, while men sort through electric waste. They are waiting for the curfew to lift so they can sell the garbage to dealers in Nangloi. They had been banking on fish sellers to come with their boats and sell fish.
At the far end of the bank, Vijay Kumar (34), a fisherman, stands atop a wooden boat watching his children play.
He used to spend two hours in the night setting his trap, and would collect the fish in the morning. On a good day he would earn Rs 1,000, half of which he would give to the owner of the boat. “Police curfew hai. Kahi nahi jaa sakte,” says Kumar, who has been surviving on packets of rajma chawal.
But there are a few who dare to break the curfew. A group of fishermen playing cards proudly show off their catch — four catfishes — in a small bucket nearby. “Bhookha nahi marunga, ye mera wada hai,” says a fisherman.
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?
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