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Waiting for food, dodging cops — ragpickers in Lucknow slum live on crumbs, no water

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The Dalibagh Bahukhandi slum is home to over 1,000 people | ThePrint
The Dalibagh Bahukhandi slum is home to over 1,000 people | ThePrint


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Lucknow: Barely three kilometres from the Uttar Pradesh assembly building and a state minister’s official residence on Bahukhandi Mantri Awas in Lucknow, a barefooted Budhari Singh, 42, scours the road for any vehicle distributing food.

Singh, a daily wage labourer who doubles up as a rag-picker, has his face covered in a gamcha (a traditional cotton towel) not because he is adhering to Covid-19 guidelines but because he doesn’t want the police to identify him amid the stringent lockdown in the city.

“It’s been 2 days since we have had any proper food,” Singh says. “We are living on the few biscuit packets left with us. They will get over by tomorrow.

“We have to earn daily to eat but ever since the lockdown we have been at the mercy of people distributing food packets,” Singh adds. “In the initial days, there were a lot of people doing it but it has stopped for over a week now since the lockdown has become stringent.”

Budhari and his family of four — wife and three children — live at the Dalibagh Bahukhandi slum, which is home to over 1,000 people, all of whom are lodged in 142 houses made of thatched roof, wooden logs and tin shades.

The slum, the largest in Lucknow, hosts migrant labourers, mostly from Chhattisgarh and Assam. The majority of those who reside here work either as daily wagers, sanitary workers or are ragpickers.


Also read: ‘Solely dependent on ration’ but Lucknow’s poor yet to get the promised free grains, pulses


No water or electricity

The government presence at Dalibagh Bahukhandi is limited to just two entities — none of which ease the hardship that the residents of the slum are facing during the lockdown.

There is a light tower with multiple halogen lights retrofitted on it but the wires providing it power are all detached. A lone poster on one of the homes has details of the do’s and don’ts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Residents say a few Asha workers came one day, put up the posters and left.

The government poster highlighting precautions for Covid-19 | ThePrint
The government poster highlighting precautions for Covid-19 | ThePrint

As such, there is no electricity or potable water connection in the slum. Residents have to often manage by fetching water from nearby handpumps.

“I have a family of five,” says Farhat Ali, a 32-year-old sanitary worker from Assam. “Before the lockdown, we would use the public convenience for our daily use but now it’s a challenge. Police often chase us away even when we try to go outside for drinking water.”

Others say that the lockdown has had another debilitating effect — children going hungry as the only government school they attend is shut.

“Earlier, when the children went to the government school, they got one meal there. But now arranging meals for them is like an added burden,” says Pramila Devi, 39, a ragpicker and mother of four who hails from Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh.

Lucknow District Magistrate Abhishek Prakash told ThePrint that the administration has been providing food to the residents.   

“In the initial days of the lockdown, people were allowed to distribute food across the street but this created concerns of social distancing violation across the city so the administration urged people to contribute their aid to community kitchens launched by CM,” he said.

“Thereafter the food is packed by the Lucknow Municipal Corporation workers in disposable tiffin boxes, which are distributed to the poor, including the daily wage workers, slum dwellers and rickshaw pullers.” 

“Our food truck goes at least twice in the day to distribute food there but sometimes, it gets over quickly. Also, handpumps have been installed in the area and mapping is being done to provide potable water supply there,” he added.


Also read: A war room, drones, CCTVs — how ‘hotspot’ Agra became Covid-19 model town


Heaps of garbage, little sanitation amid pandemic

In the middle of the coronavirus crisis, there is little awareness about the pandemic here. There is heaps of trash everywhere.

Trash has accumulated at the slum since the lockdown began | ThePrint
Trash has accumulated at the slum since the lockdown began | ThePrint

Pramila Devi, the mother of four, attributes it to their professions. “Most of the people living here work as ragpickers and all the items collected are here in heaps. We are not able to sell them due to the lockdown,” she says.

The residents say they have far more pressing concerns. All of the households have to pay a monthly rent of between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500 to the owner of a house located at the centre of the slum.

The residents were tight-lipped about the owner of the house while ThePrint couldn’t ascertain who it was as the house was locked on the day we visited.

The house, however, is the only pucca home in the slum, fitted with a window AC and had a Toyota Fortuner parked outside. Its boundary walls had posters that read: “Sanjeet Patel, BJP, former president of the student union of Chaudhary Charan Singh University Meerut”.

The number plate on the parked Toyota Fortuner also bore the same name and designation.

The only puck house in the slum and the Toyota Fortuner parked outside it | ThePrint
The only puck house in the slum and the Toyota Fortuner parked outside it | ThePrint

Hunger, deprivation leads to tension between communities

The lack of food has led to tension between the two communities that live in the slum — one that hails from Assam and the other from Chhattisgarh.

The homes along the road are occupied by those from Assam while those from Chhattisgarh live further inside.

“The Assamese people live in front of the slum and took away most of the food that was provided by the authorities in the initial days,” alleged Lakshman Kumar Sahu, who is from Bilaspur. “They also snatch food from our women and children. This will not be tolerated for long as we cannot die from hunger.”

Mohammad Shamsuddin, 37, a ragpicker from Jorhat in Assam, blamed the tension on the lack of resources.

“We used to live peacefully here but these days everyone is hungry so children and women do get into fights with each other,” he said. “Everyone wants food for their family so much of the stock gets exhausted soon.”

Sub-inspector Pramod Singh, the chowki in-charge of Dalibagh, told ThePrint that the administration stopped its efforts as the residents refused to follow social distancing norms.

“These people don’t follow social distancing measures despite repeated attempts to help them with food and other aid. Hence, we have stopped all the efforts,” Singh said.
“Earlier people use to arrive here to provide them with food packets but with the stricter implementation of the lockdown, it has stopped.”


Also read: 20 men, 1 bucket and a Dettol soap cut in two — life in quarantine for UP migrant labourers


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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