Anas Ahmed

Grey haired Khalil Shah sits beside a road holding a hammer and different tools in G-10 square, with his eyes waiting for clients so that he may earn to afford bread and butter for his family. This is a minor reflection of the lives of daily wage workers when the whole country is facing a lockdown with Novel Coronavirus-19 on the rise.

The daily wagers and labourers are struggling hard to survive amid coronavirus lockdown in the federal capital. The COVID-19 outbreak across the country is not only affecting the business class but also badly hitting the daily wagers in Islamabad.

Khalil Shah, 50, a resident of a slum area of Islamabad, came here from Mardan over five years ago with his family. Every morning, he visits G-10 square and sits there for hours with his hammer and tools hoping to find some work.

“Few days back, everything was smooth. I was doing my work with great zeal and zest,” said Shah adding that he was on his way home after purchase of groceries when the police announced to shut down markets and hotels asking people to stay at home.

He added, “It was a big shock for me as I am the only winner in my family. It was not only alarming for me but dozens of other workers too. After advising my family to stay indoors, I returned back here in hunt of work but failed and this is becoming a routine.”

Various other daily wagers and labourers come here and sit under a tree seeking work during lockdown. Rehan Shah, a teenaged waiter at a local hotel, who also works on daily wages is badly depressed and confused about the whole terrible situation. Rehan hails from Quetta and came here to work at a tea stall. The situation is quite distressing targeting daily wagers and the labour class. Streets are largely deserted because of coronavirus outbreak which is now another tension for many like him.

“I do not know how long it will prevail,” said Rehan adding “my pockets are empty now. Transportation has been frozen and I cannot even return back to my hometown.”

Clad in a black kurta and shalwar, Rehan added that the sky high rent of accommodation and rapidly growing inflation is another problem in capital. How long we can survive without work?

Since federal government has announced the lockdown, the daily wage working class is no more permitted to sit at the square or even sell any kind of stuff. After the lockdown, the downtown business centres called “Markaz” in different sectors lie empty. Even the shopping malls, business centres and busy markets in the capital have turned abandoned after the lockdown.

The district government has also imposed restrictions across the country following which the streets and markets are largely deserted.

“We are a family of four. My husband is a daily wager. I am a balloon vendor. We have a proper gas filling machine for gas balloons. My husband usually joins me in the evening. We both work together to meet daily expenses. We are facing a huge crisis due to lockdown and corona outbreak,” Shamim, 40, a balloon vendor said.

“We do not know what corona is? I do not know how long this lockdown will prevail but our savings are finished,” Shamim, a veiled woman, told.

She continued by saying that she has locked her gas filing machine nearby a footpath and visits daily with a hope that the market will open today.

“However the government is carefree and careless when it comes to facilitate labourers and daily wagers. Police vehicles keep patrolling in markets ensuring closure of shops, not permitting anyone to work, she elaborated further.

The COVID-19 outbreak has introduced a vast lockdown across the country and the shopping malls, plazas, markets, bazaars, business centres and central locations of the federal capital appear to be empty.

The morale and conditions of the daily wagers and working class fighting for survival against corona outbreak and lockdown appears to be getting low. Majority of such people are facing hunger and waiting for some help or a miracle.

–The writer is a freelance contributor and can be reached at jranasahmed18@yahoo.com