It’s a tale of two worlds — one that is deprived of food during the lockdown to survive and another which is finding elixir for the body and soul in a rich spread.
A survey, Covid-19 Induced Lockdown — How is Hinterland Coping, conducted by several NGOs recently in the rural areas of 12 states, including 5,000 households in Assam, has revealed that 50 per cent of the rural families have cut down on their “usual diet” while 68 per cent have cut down on the variety of food.
The survey report, which was released on Friday, also says that 84 per cent families got ration relief through the public distribution system, 37 per cent got their own ration, 24 per cent borrowed ration while 12 per cent got free edibles.
“Comparatively these families are eating less and fewer times now and their dependence on PDS food grains has increased. They are changing their food habits and minimising their expenses. Farmers need immediate assistance of seeds and cash. The dairy and poultry sector and daily wagers are worse affected because of the lockdown,” the report says.
The study was conducted by NGOs Pradan, Action for Social Advancement, Transform Rural India Foundation, Gramin Sahara and Aga Khan Rural Report.
Dipmoni Tanti, a villager in Tinsukia district of Upper Assam, told this correspondent, “We got rice and kerosene from the government ration shop but nothing else. We eat once a day to save some grain for future. God knows what will happen tomorrow.”
Her son Aatish, with whom she lives, is under treatment for tuberculosis for years.
The Nandy sisters perform in an online concert. Picture by Antara Nandy
Aatish’s wife Suchita and his mother-in-law Jagyo are also ailing. He has three children. Aatish recently lost his father-in-law for want of treatment.
Many families said they had not received the benefits of government schemes.
The district administration had on May 2 ordered free distribution of 1kg masoor dal to every ration card holder through government ration shops in April but almost everyone here said they were yet to get it.
Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha general secretary Rupesh Gowala told The Telegraph, “The government must directly help the poor people who have no earnings during the lockdown.”
Gopal Tanti, a teacher, said, “The poor are wisely choosing the Gandhian way of fasting to survive. But they should be taken care of as people with weaker immunity are most vulnerable to coronavirus.”
While one section is rationing food, another is coping with the lockdown by making merry and remaining positive. “The lockdown is a good change from the usual hectic pace of life. Life is more comfortable and entertaining,” a businessman said. Another said, “Gorgeous food, company of family, music and lots of fun have increased my thirst for life.”
There are also several well-do-to people who are working round-the-clock for the welfare of the downtrodden. Sanjay Khaitan, a businessman, lawyer and vice-principal of Tinsukia Law College, who runs a charity here, said, “I feel happy to see others happy. During this crisis, it’s our duty to help the poor and needy.”