A small, old house submerged by monsoon floods. The sackcloth covering the structure wearing out. The roof, leaking. Chiltu Rishidev of Biratnagar Metropolitan City-16 sits quietly in front of his dilapidated house. You can make out lines of worry on his face even from a distance.
The daily-wage earner, who is also his family’s sole bread-winner, has been unable to work properly in the past eight months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now he has reached a stage where he cannot provide anything for his family. “The pandemic has destroyed our livelihood,” he says. “It’s been a long time since people like us who survive on daily wages have had a proper meal.” He laments he can’t even properly feed his children when they cry of hunger.
Chiltu sees Dashain more as a source of financial burden than a time of merriment. “Instead of merriment, our Dashain this year will be spent in hunger,” he says.
Similar is the story of Bhuvan Rishidev of Biratnagar-16. Bhuvan, who had been feeding a family of seven from his daily wage, has lost his livelihood as well. “Whatever little we had saved has been spent on food,” Bhuvan says. “Now as Dashain enters the country’s affluent houses, all that we can welcome in our house are hunger and grief.”
Bhuvan’s house, built on public land, was also submerged by monsoon floods. Along with the house, the floods also damaged what little food they had in store, as well as their clothes and property. The family is trying to repair the damaged house, to make it livable, even as they have now been reduced to begging for survival. “It is heart-wrenching to see my children cry out of hunger. But there is no one to help us. The local political leaders, they are adept at using poor people like us as their vote banks. Seldom do they help us in any meaningful way.”
Poonam Rishidev of Biratnagar-19 squatter settlement also lost her livelihood due to the pandemic. She too lives in a small hut on public land. Poonam used to work as domestic help in various places, which helped her feed her family. “No one calls me to work anymore,” she says. “Everyone wants to eat good food and wear new clothes in Dashain, but my family is on the verge of starvation.”
Poonam’s children have been asking for new clothes this Dashain, she says, but she cannot afford any. Her first priority is making sure they get food. “I wish I could feed them properly every day. Clothes, we’ll manage with the old rags we have,” she says, recalling the past when she earned more, not less, during Dashain. Poonam has been taking out loans to arrange daily meals for her family. But now, even the lenders baulk at giving her anything, she says. “I kept my children happy by doing pots and pans in other people’s houses. But doesn’t the local ward office offer any help? “When we go there, we get abuses not help”.