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Help pours in for those hit by lockdown

By Trisha Mukherjee
April 11, 2020 13:23 IST
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The devastating impact of coronavirus crisis was evident in the pictures hordes of homeless migrant workers on long marches back to their villages; many urban slum dwellers, living on the edges of the society in normal times, left destitute, clamouring for food.

But it has not been all gloom and doom.

IMAGE: Volunteers distribute food packets to needy people during a nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic in Patna. Photograph: PTI Photo

Amid the crisis has risen an outpouring of empathy from ordinary people across India led by the civil society, who have stepped up to help migrant labourers, domestic helps, construction workers, and small scale workers who were left jobless because of the nationwide lockdown.

From every part of the country, Indians are coming forward with donations, big and small, on crowdfunding sites, with online transfers, and even good old cash left in envelopes at their gates.


"People have been incredibly generous," said Rohini Malur of Bengaluru-based NGO Hasiru Dala, which has raised a whopping Rs 38.27 lakh in just 17 days, surpassing its goal of Rs 36 lakh. Malur said the donors gave an average of Rs 3000 each.

Hasiru Dala used crowdfunding to collect money for providing dry ration kits to ragpickers and daily wage labourers in six cities of Karnataka -- Bengaluru, Mysuru, Tumakuru, Davanagere and the twins cities of Hubli-Dharwad.

The kits contain 25 kg rice, 5 kg lentils, 2 litres of cooking oil, salt, chilli powder, 500 grams of groundnuts, 500 grams jaggery and soaps. Worth Rs 1600 each, the kits are expected to last for 21 days.

"The families we have identified are the most vulnerable and need immediate support. They have no BPL/ration card, no public housing, and no predictable income," Malur said. Hasiru Dala had identified 3,500 vulnerable families but has managed to help 4,661 families since March 24, the day the lockdown was announced.

Besides depending on 'a little' funding from corporate houses, and seeking donations on their website, Hasiru Dala also tied up with the crowdfunding site KETTO, which has offered to waive off its service charges completely.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to push around 40 crore informal sector workers in India deeper into poverty, with the lockdown and other containment measures affecting jobs and earnings.

A similar drive is being conducted by Project Potential in Bihar, which is aiding daily wage workers who have returned from tea gardens, farms, and brick kilns by raising money on crowdfunding site Give India, which also has waived off its fee.

"With the nationwide lockdown daily wage labourers are without a livelihood. Many of these families lack ration cards or bank accounts, and even for those who have them, ATMs are often inaccessible or lack money once people reach them," Abodh Kumar of Project Potential said.

To encourage the villagers, especially the children to stay indoors, Project Potential has also included a board game of Ludo in the aid packet.

"Most of the population is tribal/adivasi. It is difficult to keep the children from going out. So we thought Ludo would help keep them engaged indoors," Kumar said.

An awareness program run separately by the group on WhatsApp goes to 265 villages in the state, disseminatign precautionary and preventive information about the novel coronavirus in the local dialects of Surjapuri, Rajbanshi and Santhali.

Individuals too, have stepped up to do their bit for those working in informal sectors, whose services help keep the middle and upper class households functional.

Ameena Talwar, a resident of Delhi's posh Vasant Kunj area has been raising money from the people in her locality for the last two weeks to first distribute ration to their domestic help such as maids and drivers, as well as neighbourhood gardeners, sweepers and construction workers camped at half-finished projects.

"When I decided to do this, many people told me it wouldn't work, but the response has been overwhelming. People keep money in envelopes outside their gates to ensure social distancing, and I collect it from there. I managed to raise Rs 2 lakh in a week," Talwar said.

She first created packets worth Rs 800 each containing 1 litre oil, salt, sugar, wheat flour, dal, biscuits and five bars of soap.

To expand her relief work, she has now tied up with the NGO Prabhaav Foundation to also reach out to those living in the slum across the road from her neighbourhood. The new packets cost Rs 525 each and have the same things except the flour has been reduced from 10 kgs to 5 kgs and 2 kgs of rice has been added.

Several former and current students of Kolkata's Presidency and Jadavpur Universities have also come together to create the Quarantined Student Youth Network that has undertaken a food distribution drive to help migrant labourers in Delhi and Bengal who have been hit the worst by the lockdown.

"We have got money from people both within and outside the country, and they have been generous. I managed to raise 1.5 lakh within a single day," Debojit Thakur, a PHD scholar said.

The Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch has been feeding cooked meals to nearly 25,000 people, including daily wagers, industrial workers, construction labourers, domestic workers, and housekeeping staff every single day since March 27.

Its temporary kitchen in Gurgaon's Shri Ram School produces nearly 15,000 meals every day. The rest are provided by different contributors including food delivery app Swiggy, said Saba Dewan from the GNEM.

"We are also providing ration kits which would last a family of five for about 10 days. We also feel that dry food makes people feel more secure," Dewan said.

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Trisha Mukherjee
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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus