‘The fear of starvation takes precedence over the virus’
Gowtham*, a 15-year-old student of a government-aided school, residing in Madurai city, has been waking up sharply at 4 a.m. since April. Wearing a face mask, he rides his bicycle for four kilometres to pick up newspapers and milk packets from his agent. After riding several kilometres he completes delivering newspapers by 7.30 a.m..
“I earn a daily wage of ₹40. If I collect the monthly newspaper charges from the customers, I get additional ₹200 every month,” says Gowtham.
His mother, who used to work as a conservancy worker at a private school, has been jobless due to the lockdown. His father, a daily wage worker, rarely gets work nowadays. “With schools being closed, I thought I can do my bit in supporting my family financially,” he says.
Like Gowtham, some students of government schools in Madurai have taken up odd jobs during the lockdown to financially support their families.
Dinesh*, a 16-year-old boy from a village in Madurai, has started working in a confectionery manufacturing company for the past three weeks. “As chocolates keep coming on the conveyor belt, I pick them up and wrap it. It is then placed in a big container. My job is as simple as that,” he says.
Dinesh works for eight hours from 6 a.m. to get a daily wage of ₹200. “The income from my father’s petty shop has drastically come down. Having two square meals is becoming tougher for my family. So, I and a few friends from my village started working at this company as the schools are also closed,” he says.
He notes he has no fear of contracting COVID-19 infection by going to work. “The fear of starvation takes precedence over the virus,” he adds.
Dinesh’s friend, Gopal*, has also been busy during the lockdown as he has been working as a conservancy worker with one of the rural local bodies in the district. He is temporarily working on behalf of his father who fell sick last month due to alcohol-related illness.
“Since my father is a permanent employee, the authorities said that either a family member or someone else must work to temporarily take up my father’s role. We cannot afford to pay someone else to take up the job. So. I took up the work as we have no other family members,” he says.
His work involves collection of garbage from households and spraying disinfectants at the houses of COVID-19 positive patients.
Gowtham says that he will continue to work till the schools reopen. “I always secure the highest score in my class. I want to study well and get a good paying job. But, I really wish that things change for the better in the upcoming months,” he notes.
*(All names have been changed)
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