On Tuesday, around 12.30 pm, Champa Waghela, 30, walked to her makeshift tarpaulin home with her three-month-old daughter in her arms, a packet of puffed rice, four chappatis and some milk.
Waghela came to Vadodara from Mehsana almost a decade ago after her marriage. Her husband worked at construction sites as a contractual labourer as she sold balloons. But the pandemic has brought in a whirlwind change in their lives and has forced her to beg.
“I do not have money to buy food for the family. We are seven members, my husband and six children, including five daughters. Before the lockdown, we were able to manage with our daily earnings. Even immediately after the lockdown, some people would come and distribute khichdi but that eventually stopped. We ran out of savings and I decided to beg. I need to feed my children… cannot put them to bed empty stomach every day,” Champa said.
The area with the famous Dashma temple and the lake is surrounded by slums. Around 100 families are settled here. A few migrants from Madhya Pradesh have returned to their villages while a few from Rajasthan and other districts of Gujarat have stayed back. Among them are contractual labourers, scrap sellers, balloon sellers and mechanics, all out of work, without any income since the lockdown. Most of the families are forced to begging to make ends meet.
The Vadodara Municipal Corporation has been providing one meal a day in the area. “We cover every area once a day and try to provide food to each person. But there are women from this slum who leave their houses in the morning. They have big families to feed. We have urged them to stay back as we are providing them meals but we cannot force them. We will try to provide them two meals a day,” said Devang Bhatt, Officer, Ward number 10.
Geeta Waghela (23), who stays two houses away, has permanent address of ‘Dashma Mandir Zupadpatti’ in her Aadhaar card. Every morning she sits outside grocery stores that has huge influx of customers in the first half of the day. Many of them also walk to other areas of the city.
Geeta’s family of seven is having a wholesome meal with rice, dal and potato curry on Wednesday. She could ensure the meal after she went out begging on Monday. “I did not go out today. I still have Rs 100 and some ration left to sustain for another day or two,” Geeta says.
Eldest in the family, Geeta has taken up the responsibility. “My parents are unwell and I dont want them to go out in the sun. No one from the family has ever begged before. It is just the circumstances. Some people give dry ration, others give money. The vehicle comes once a day to provide food but it has no fixed timing. We have big families and it does not suffice,” Geeta added.
On the other end of the lake are migrant families where a few houses are empty. Vijay Parmar (37) lives here with his wife and five kids the youngest being seven months old.
Parmar, a native of Dakor, decided to stay back fearing the infection. “I have a piece of land in my village but it is infertile. I was also scared of contracting the virus… who will look after our kids… They are very young,” Parmar said.
Outside his house, they have arranged firewood to prepare food. The open area has some utensils, a small box with dal, salt, oil and a bag full of rice. “Rice is all we have. Some people donate rice but nothing else. We have to manage milk daily for the toddler. Kids are hungry often. But I do not go out to beg. We look forward to resume work. If the lockdown continues, I will have to beg like others,” says Peli Parmar, Vijay’s wife.