My Story : “If Migrants Are Getting Food & Have A Roof Over Them, Why Are They Risking Their Lives & Leaving Cities?”

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Why are migrants risking their lives and leaving cities? If they get food and have a roof over them, why don’t they stay put and adhere to the lockdown? This is a question that many people in my circle are asking. So, I thought I might throw some light on the condition of migrants in Mumbai from what I have seen while working on relief as part of Khana Chahiye. This is based on what I have seen on the ground in the past one and half months in various slums across the country and in my interactions (including recorded interviews) with migrants walking home in the past week.

  • Hunger – When we (educated middle class) and them (migrants, daily wage earners, and homeless) say hunger, we mean very different things. For us, hunger is when we are hungry. For them, hunger is about not knowing when the next meal is or worse, knowing that there is not going to be a “next” meal. So when we say, “If they get food”, that is a big if. Because it is not just about providing food today but everyday till this crisis is over. Which between no one is sure of.
  • Dignity – One sentence that we have heard on the roads repeatedly in the past week is, “Hum kitne din tak, kisi aur ke reham par khaate rahenge?” (How long will we sustain on someone else’s charity?). The migrants getting out of cities now are actually the better-off ones because they had someone to support them for one and a half months. The ones who were the worst affected fled long back because they didn’t even have that support. But how long can one survive on someone’s charity, especially when you are someone who had never had a free lunch before the lockdown, not even when you deserved it. In their villages, if not anything, they have small pieces of land that can give them something to sustain on without depending on someone else.
  • Acute space shortage – Let’s assume that an unlimited supply of food is given to these people and that they swallow every bit of pride. Even then, they have a big problem. They don’t live in two bedroom apartments or even in one room and kitchen apartments. They live in cramped spaces (rooms with a single-window or worse, windowless rooms). Even on a regular day, they have to take turns to sleep. Getting out is not a luxury for them. It is a basic human requirement. Because space is a basic human requirement. We don’t understand that because we have taken space for granted.
  • Conditions at home – Most of them have entire families consisting of wife, kids, and aged parents in their villages. In many cases, there are no male adult members to take care of them. During this crisis, if someone becomes unwell there, what will they do? You might have heard the story captured by a Khaanachahiye volunteer while distributing food – A man attempted to cycle from Mumbai to Jammu because his father in Jammu had a brain stroke and needed urgent help. This is not an isolated story. This is the norm. 
  • Lack of means of communication – Pre-paid recharge was not even an essential item in the first phase of the lockdown. We might not have noticed it because we use postpaid or do online recharges. How will they keep in touch with their families? How will their families know their whereabouts? And even communication about the virus doesn’t reach them as accurately as it reaches us. Their families are paranoid. Anyone we ask on the road has only one thing to say, “Our families are begging us to come back.”
  • The list is endless – I can go on and on about this. But I think you get the point.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned in the last few weeks, it is the meaning of the word PRIVILEGE. We are privileged beyond imagination. So much that we are completely disconnected from the majority of the country. Why is there such a severe humanitarian crisis in our country due to the lockdown (not talking about COVID here)? It is because systematically a large proportion of our population has been made invisible. So invisible that they have accepted their invisibility as second nature. That’s the reason why they rarely get violent when they have all the right to vent their anger in any way they seem fit during this unprecedented crisis when the country has abandoned them. That’s the reason why they stand in line for days for buses/trains/trucks to go home or to simply get a meal from a good samaritan.

It is difficult for us to understand their invisibility because we, the educated middle-class, are hyper-visible. The biggest testimonial to their invisibility is that the word middle-class is one of the biggest misnomers. We aren’t in the middle, we are standing on top of them, on top of the rest of the country. Even our PM comes on TV to talk to us. But who is talking to them? It is only overworked police, that too, through loudspeakers as if they are a herd.

The least we can do during this unprecedented crisis is to respect their intent and urge the authorities to not continue to unsee them. More importantly, let’s do whatever we can beyond respecting the lockdown (which we should), by contributing as per our capabilities towards initiatives & organizations that are striving to provide them immediate relief.

This lockdown has, once again, shown us that the real fault-lines within our society are socio-economic and not religious or political. So we the elites (yes, that’s the word), have the chance to acknowledge our privilege and get back the sense of empathy for our fellow countrymen. The empathy that we lost when we stopped being genuinely middle class. Let’s not miss this chance, for in relating to our fellow countrymen, lies the great fruit of belongingness, which we crave for no matter how aloof we behave. This is our chance to truly belong to the entity called India.

Photo: The Indian flag flutters in the background as migrants wait at Majiwada junction, Thane, for MSRTC buses to take them to Maharashtra borders.

– Karthik KN , Food Ninja, S3 #khaanachahiye

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- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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