Fearing loan sharks and slavery, Indian workers ask government for cash help
CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Informal workers in India on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a petition to provide emergency financial assistance to protect them from loan sharks and labor traffickers as the pandemic erodes their income.
India is one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus, and a strict lockdown earlier this year took a heavy toll on informal workers, who make up 90% of the country’s 450 million workers.
Tuesday’s petition, signed by 1.5 million people including migrant workers, street vendors and homeworkers, calls for the distribution of 6,000 rupees ($ 81) in cash for at least the next four months to help to prevent risky loans, human trafficking and child labor.
“This assistance will provide cash to vulnerable families living below the poverty line,” said P Balamurugan, member of the Tamil Nadu Alliance – a coalition of 100 charities seeking to improve conditions for workers in the garment industry. .
The petition, which was launched by the charity coalition, included signatories from 23 Indian states, organizers said.
Asked about the appeal, senior government spokesman KS Dhatwalia said “a series of measures for all categories of workers” had been announced since the start of the pandemic.
“These initiatives have been updated along the way to meet the needs of the people,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Modi administration has pledged to spend 35 billion rupees ($ 463 million) on food for migrant workers and provide them with local jobs through a rural employment program.
But many informal workers fear that a lack of papers or a bank account will hamper their access to government assistance, and labor rights activists say many have turned to informal lenders often charging rates. high interest.
India’s Home Office issued an advisory in July urging state governments to launch anti-trafficking awareness campaigns amid growing fears that countless people without work, food or money could fall prey traffickers.
The petition said the cash assistance would act as a “safety net”, minimizing hunger and reducing the likelihood of human trafficking, child marriage and child labor among the informal workforce.
“The cash assistance will give them access to essential food items, medical care, rent payment and other additional expenses,” he said.
Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org