COVID-19 lockdown worsens lives of working poor

Coronavirus lockdown worsens lives of working poor in Bengaluru

Fruit and vegetable traders who had arrived at the market before dawn complained of being harassed and beaten by police

(DH Photo)

K R Market has become an unwitting battleground between indigent traders trying to make a living and BBMP officials concerned that the place could become a breeding ground for diseases, especially COVID-19.

Fruit and vegetable traders who had arrived at the market before dawn complained of being harassed and beaten by police for trying to sell their wares at the market. In contrast, the police, who have erected barricades around the perimeter of the market, have clear orders: prevent fruits, vegetables and other goods from being brought into the area for sale.

"Our mission is to prevent the congregation of people in the market which would facilitate the potential transmission of COVID-19. If we let even a fraction of the stalls here at the market to open for business, a large crowd will gather," said a sub-inspector who was helping to man one of the barricades. 

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For sellers who have a long-time association with the market, however, the embargo was described as worsening their hand-to-mouth existences. 

Bhavani (48), a citrus seller lambasted the closure of the market. "On TV, we have big people saying that essential services such as grocery sales should continue, but here, the police are cracking down. What is being said by the government is not being carried out on the ground," she said

"If this keeps up, our daily incomes will dwindle to nothing. We have children at home. How are we supposed to feed them?" she asked.

Several veggie and fruit sellers said that they earned an average of Rs 2,000 to Rs 7,000 per day depending on the type of product being sold. That income has largely disappeared due to the ban on assembly. 

Karnataka Should not Become Italy

Another fruit seller, Mohammed Naem (31) said that he supported the closure of the market, but added that the government must take efforts to compensate sellers with a stipend as had been promised by the Chief Minister.

"We don't want our Karnataka to become another 'Italy' so we support the closure, but without anything in compensation, it is becoming difficult to run our households," he said. 

Although police had allowed most of the sellers at the market on Thursday to sell off old stock, they were refusing entry to good vehicles coming in with fresh stocks. 

Hemanth, DC (Markets), BBMP whose men temporarily seized crates of produce from stalwart sellers refusing to leave their spots, described efforts to maintain hygiene at the market as difficult because of the uncooperative attitude of sellers. 

“I understand that their livelihoods are being affected, but we have the safety of the larger public at stake,” Hemanth said as BBMP and Fire Department personnel lambasted traders who refused to budge from their places, to allow disinfectant measures to take place.

Blanket Closure Not Answer

Several citizens trying to buy provisions but were returning home empty-handed were also scathing of officials. Jaganthilal (49), resident of Nagarpete who had come to the market in the hopes of buying some vegetables said that a blanket ban is not the solution.

"The police should instead set up a queue system to allow people to buy groceries," he said. 

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