As Australia looks forward to plans that will reconnect people and kickstart our economy, countries like India continue to agonise about the future. How will this end? When will it end?  

Foxglove partners are working with pavement and slum dwellers in Chennai, one of the two worst-affected cities in India (the other being Mumbai). On average, Chennai is recording over  1200 new cases a dayThe city was under a strict lockdown between 1st March and 31st May but after briefly opening up on 1 June 2020, a surge in new cases has led to a new lockdown order from 19th June. 

Chennai’s vulnerability is due to: 

  • The size of the population, making it difficult to coordinate, support, and educate regarding social distancing. 
  • Congested slums and markets – being in congested slums the families are surrounded by COVID and some have already been in and out of recovery centers. 
  • Difficulty in managing social distancing even with a strict lockdown effective from March 2020. 

Here are the responses to our questions from our local partners working in Chennai: 

What is the Indian Government doing?

The Government has taken many precautions to contain the COVID 19 infection, especially amongst the poor. There are Government-run isolation and recovery centers where the patients are looked after treated before being sent home.  The hospitals are also filling up with patients and nowadays, people with milder symptoms are just treating themselves at home.   

What is the impact on the poorest people? 

COVID 19 has overall had a very severe impact on the poorest families.  

  1. Income

Almost all of the daily wage earners (subsistence level) reside in congested slums. Due to the lockdown, the daily labor jobs such as construction working, manual transportation of goods, etc. have not happened.  The majority of the men used to work in vegetable markets which have been closed as markets were a corona hotspot. For many ladies who were employed as household helpers, they were asked to stay home in the period and never earned income because the employers feared contracting corona from them. Even people who ran street food outlets and small shops had to close and earned no income during the lockdown. 

     2. Lack of access to Government support 

Over 60% of pavement dweller families who have been rehabilitated in temporary housing do not have the necessary government ID cards (e.g. ration cards, Aadhar card, etc.) They have applied for ID cards as part of our rehabilitation process but the cards have been issued to only 500 out of 1800 families. As a result, they have not been able to access any Government benefits in the period of lockdown. The Tamil Nadu Government delivered some free rations and deposited some emergency funds to the marginalized poor of Tamil Nadu during lockdown but because a large section of our group does not have the government ID, they could not receive the benefits. As a result, we can say that the majority of this community has had no income and no free food supplies from the Government in this period. 

 How have Foxglove, Saraswathi Educational Cultural & Charitable Trust and Equitas Bank, responded to this crisis? 

  1. Provided 310 neediest slum families with food and safety ration packagesfrom Foxglove funds 
  2. Provided another 500 Birds Nest families with food ration packages from other supporter funds 
  3. Been able to implement these activities due to partnership with the Equitas Bank social workers who have been visiting the community even in the severe lockdown periods.  

Are these emergency supports still needed or is life returning to normal? 

Yes, we will surely need assistance for the families until at least September 2020. We are hoping that the lockdown will open by the end of the month when people can return to work and things will start normalizing but truly it depends on the COVID-19 spread. They will need financial assistance to pay the meager rent, food supplies, masks, and soap, etc. to keep them safe.  We anticipate needing at least  AUD$15,000 to help this community in this period .


What stories are you hearing from people on the ground? 

So many people’s stories reflect the ongoing battle by the poorest families to survive everyday life in India. This is before Covid-19. Now the stories have become even more dramatic with family members unable to work outside of the slums, no savings, and limited access to external support. When you support Foxglove, you support women like Selvi who do all that they can to provide for their own families but face a current challenge that no one can overcome.

Please read Selvi’s story. 

I spoke to a woman named Selvi from the community today. This is her story. 49-year-old Selvi was a single mother who raised two children when she became associated with the Birds Nest project 8 years ago. She has sold a kidney to make ends meet and support her kids after her husband left her. Equitas helped her by moving her into a stable accommodation in a nearby slum and helped her with a loan to buy a sewing machine and a tiny shed to rent for her sewing.  She was also provided the full training for sewing women’s clothes and was earning a meager Rs10,000 per month from this occupation.  She has a son aged 25 who works as a truck helper and general laborer earning INR 10,000 per month. The son lives with her and she also has an aged mother. Daughter aged 24 is married and living with her husband and two children aged 5 and 6 and does not work. Her husband works for a food delivery app named Swiggy. The daughter’s children have been recipients of Foxglove’s educational assistance. This year they also received food supplies. 

Since March 2020, the family has been unable to earn a living as they are daily wage earners. Mrs. Selvi had a ration card so she was able to get civil supplies food rations for just one person as her card was not updated with her son and mother’s name. The daughter and son in law also did not have a ration card so they were unable to get any benefits or civil supply food rations from Government. This situation has not improved as the lockdown has been continuous and none of them have been able to earn an income.  They have been unable to pay their rent which is about Rs3000 per month.   

They earned about Rs3000 as a family in early June when the lockdown opened but once the lockdown was reintroduced, they had no funds. They cannot hope to earn again till after it all normalizes. Mrs. Selvi was very happy about the food supplies they received from us and said that masks and soap were an important necessity in their community to ensure safety. Without help, they cannot imagine how they will survive the coming period. Life is very uncertain”.

>>A tax-deductible donation of $20 will provide food for a family for a week.  Please donate today via our website. >>