On a normal day, Rupa, a pourakarmika who works in and around Peenya, wakes up at 6 a.m. to get to work by 6.30 a.m. But these days are far from normal with working professionals, children and the elderly hunkering down at home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the city is under a complete lockdown, her day begins at 5 a.m. as there is no transport.
When everyone is asked to stay at home, we work. Earlier, we would take share autos and other means of transport. Now, we have to walk. Sometimes, we manage to get autos early in the morning. But they are extremely expensive, and we cannot afford them, said Rupa.
Nirmala M. of the BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha said that pourakarmikas across the city have to walk for at least 5 km just to get to work. They are drained out by the time they come to work, and they are under a lot of stress. It is an unfortunate situation, she said.
Though the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has roped in buses for essential workers, most are yet to benefit from it. Officials said that these teething problems will be sorted out soon.
The BBMP has reduced the working hours of pourakarmikas to four hours from 6.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.
Another pourakarmika, who is also struggling to get to work, said that it was difficult for them to get food and water too as Indira Canteens are now closed. If we do not get anything to eat en route, our first meal is only after we reach home, which is after noon, or later if we have to walk back home, she said.
In a few areas, including K.R. Market, pourakarmikas were provided food packets on Wednesday. A BBMP official said that they would ensure that everyone gets food in the coming days.
The men and women, who are an essential part of Bengalurus waste management system, are also worried about their health given the increasing number of masks that are being discarded.
People use them and carelessly throw them on the road. We have asked many people to at least wrap it up in paper and put it in dustbins. Some agree, but most ignore the request, she said.
We feel that we are vulnerable to epidemic diseases like COVID-19 because of the nature of our work. Though the government has provided basic preventive measures such as masks, gloves and sanitisers, we are afraid, said Jayamma.
Randeep D., Special Commissioner, Solid Waste Management (SWM), BBMP, said that the civic body will look into the complaints. We have tied up with the BMTC to mitigate the transport problem. Pourakarmikas can now travel in BMTC buses to get to their places of work and back home, he said, adding that the civic body will be paying the pourakarmikas 100 per day over and above what they are being paid.
R. Moha Raj of Dalit Sangarsh Samiti urged the government to provide pourakarmikas with insurance facilities during these testing times. They are one of the most essential services and boosting their morale at such times is important he said.
In this series, we talk to people in essential services who report to work every day to keep the city running