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‘My family will die of hunger if I do not start working now’

Neeraj Gautam, NEPALGUNJ:- It is exactly two months now since Ghanshyam Kori of Bankegaon, Nepalgunj-9 has stopped operating his electric three-wheeler auto rickshaw.
Kori’s family comprising five members which was dependent on him for sustenance has been pushed on the verge of hunger due to the extended lockdown. The family lives in a rented room. This family, whose only means of income was operation of the auto rickshaw, is now barely on a hand-to-mouth existence. With no more earning in the last two months, Kori’s wife, Laxmi, has started working as domestic help for other families. She has been doing dishes and washing clothes for others to make ends meet.
Kori’s family is but a representative case of around 10 thousand families of rickshaw drivers who have been left high and dry due to the lockdown.
Nearly 10 thousand e-rickshaws are in operation in Banke district, said Nepalgunj Sub-Metropolitan City deputy mayor, Uma Thapa Magar. The extended lockdown has hijacked the daily income of these many rickshaw drivers. It has not only taken away their daily earning, the lockdown has also given them mental stress: how to feed the family.
Driven to desperation due to the drawn-out lockdown, some rickshaw drivers have now started operating rickshaws. But they are not able to operate freely. They are left with no option but to return home empty-hand if the local administration imposed the lockdown more strictly.
“I have now run out of whatever money I had saved from my earning. Even the money I borrowed from friends and relatives is finished. My family will die of hunger if I do not operate my rickshaw,” said Mohammad Hamid Idrisi of Nepalgunj-13, who was seen with his rickshaw outside on the road waiting for passengers. He had taken out his rickshaw despite the lockdown.
It is not easy even for the rickshaw drivers who muster courage and choose to operate their rickshaw as they are frequently stopped at many places by security personnel and also because the passengers are reluctant to ride on the rickshaw for fear of contracting coronavirus.
“We cannot allow rickshaws to operate. All are facing problem due to the lockdown situation and the rickshaw drivers cannot be an exception,” Chief District Officer of Banke, Ram Bahadur Kuruwang, said.
The rickshaw drivers say that although the ward offices of the local levels in the district provided rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt in the initial days of the lockdown, they have stopped providing it now. “We would not have to take risk and go out to operate our rickshaws if we were provided with food grain as relief support enough to last for the lockdown,” Idris explained his predicament. RSS

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