For India’s slum dwellers, social distancing will be impossible during coronavirus lockdown

His situation is desperate. The tiny home has no running water or toilet, his family is low on food — and when he doesn’t go to work, he doesn’t get paid.

“Social distancing is not just for the sick, but for each and every person, including you and even your family,” Modi said in a nationwide address last week.

But the chaos unfolding across India in recent days has spelled out that for the 74 million people — one sixth of the population — who live cheek by jowl in the country’s slums, social distancing is going to be physically and economically impossible.
Indian migrant workers wait to board buses to return to their home villages as a nationwide lockdown continues on March 28, 2020, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India.

“The lanes are so narrow that when we cross each other, we cannot do it without our shoulders rubbing against the other person,” said Mahender. “We all go outdoors to a common toilet and there are 20 families that live just near my small house.

“We practically all live together. If one of us falls sick, we all will.”

At least one person in a Mumbai slum has already tested positive for the novel coronavirus. As panic grows among India’s most vulnerable, thousands of migrant workers are trying to flee the slums for their rural homes, by bus and even by foot, sparking fears they will import the virus to the countryside.

In a radio address Sunday, acknowledging the chaos the lockdown had brought India’s poor, Modi asked the nation for forgiveness. But he also urged listeners to understand there was no other option.

1 toilet for 1,440 people

Water is one of the biggest reasons India’s poor need to leave home every…

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