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“Ancestral work of making grinding stones got closed due to covid-19 lockdown; resumed the business again” – Munna Lal

In the sultry afternoon 32-year-old Munna Lal who is a professional craftsman, was giving the shape of grinding stone to a piece of stone, by repeatedly hitting the hammer on the stone while wiping dripping sweat from his forehead.  Munna Lal belongs to the Kanjad caste, who come from the nomadic community.  He came to Lucknow at a young age of 7 along with his parents who were doing the business of grinding stones, and here he has spent almost 20 years of his life on footpaths. His caste has 500 votes in the village and majority belonging to this community have ancestral business of making grinding stones. Wiping his sweat Munna Lal says, “कोरोना में हमारा धंधा ठप्प हो गया था. हमारे काम में ज्यादा पैसा नहीं है जितना रोज कमाते हैं उतना खर्चा हो जाता है. पिछले साल लॉक डाउन में शुरुआत के एक दो महीने बाद ही हमारा धंधा बंद हो गया. लगभग एक साल तक दिहाड़ी मजदूरी करके जैसे-तैसे गुजर बसर की.”Presently Munna Lal along with his family resides at Vasant Kunj Yojana, Sector P Dubagga. His family includes his 27-year-old wife Anita and their 2 sons and 3 daughters, his eldest son who was 12 years old, passed away in May, 2020 after the first covid-19 lockdown. Covid-19 impacted the family in the gravest manner possible as due to lockdown his ancestral work stopped and despite numerous efforts, they could not save their 12 year old child. In a quivering voice with moist eyes Madan shares, “हमारे पास इतने पैसे नहीं थे कि हम अपने बेटे के लिए कफन खरीफ पाते. एक बाबा ने अपना साल दिया जिसे उढ़ाकर हमने उसे दफनाया”. In March 2021 Badlav in collaboration with Goonj Organisation supported Munna Lal in the purchase of stones so he could resume his ancestral work. However fate had something else written for him as when he resumed his ancestral work 2nd Covid-19 lockdown was imposed and Munna lal shares his angst by cursing lockdown and says, “पिछले साल लॉकडाउन में ही हमारा धंधा बंद हो गया था. इस बार जब दोबारा काम शुरू किया तब फिर लॉकडाउन लग गया. दिन की 1,2 सिलबट्टे बिक जाती हैं जिससे बच्चों के लिए 2 वक़्त की रोटी का जुगाड़ हो पाता है.” His wife from the last 5-6 years has been selling wooden broomsticks made for cleaning cobwebs. For selling these she walks several kilometers carrying bundles of sticks on her head so as to earn some money and support her husband in bearing the household expenditure. They both leave their house by 8AM for selling grinding stones and broomsticks in the nearby village areas and return by 7PM. Whatever meager amounts of money is earned gets utilized in other household expenses. Munna lal shares his misery, “जब मैं 14-15 साल का था तभी शादी हो गयी. बहुत छोटी उम्र से मैं भी सिलबट्टे बनाने का काम कर रहा हूँ. अच्छा नहीं लगता पत्नी गाँव-गाँव घूमकर डंडे बेचने छोटे बच्चे को गोद में लेकर जाती हैं पर मजबूरी और गरीबी जो न कराए वो कम है.” Madan’s work could not succeed much in the month of July and August, 2021 as people due to religious beliefs do not prefer buying grinding stones in these months which coincide with the rainy season in India. He says, “लॉकडाउन में झोले में चोरी छिपे दिन का एक दो सिलबट्टा बेच आते थे. जो लोग सिलबट्टा टकवाते हैं उनसे अनाज ले लेते हैं जिससे राशन कम खरीदना पड़ता है. जबसे मिक्सी आ गयी तबसे लोग सिलबट्टा बहुत कम खरीदते हैं. इस काम के अलावा हमें दूसरा काम आता नहीं. दिहाड़ी मजदूरी रोज मिलती नहीं जिससे गुजारा हो इसलिए इस काम से ही कमाते-खाते हैं.” He points towards his kids and says “अगर बदलाव संस्था से मदद न मिली होती तो शायद हम ये काम दोबारा कभी शुरू नहीं कर पाते. इन बच्चों को पढ़ा तो नहीं पाता हूँ कम से कम पेट ही भर दूँ.”