Around a month ago, my mother had shared a news report with me wherein a reporter was interviewing a group of migrants travelling in a tempo on the Mumbai National Highway. The questions were general such as “Where they were heading” etc. Then the reporter moved ahead to interview another set of migrants. After a while the same reporter returned to the previous spot where the first group of migrants were being interviewed and realised that the tempo driver who he had just interviewed a few moments ago had met with an accident, overturned and was dead. It was a shocking experience.
There were lots of images which have been circulating of this entire migrant exodus – a child sitting on the railway tracks, pulling a blanket over her dead mother, a migrant on the roadside who is speaking on the phone and weeping, etc. I wrote a post about the same on Facebook and Instagram. I was frustrated sitting at home and seeing all this happen to people who are a large part of how well we perform as a country, because they are the real workforce of the country. They are indeed essential workers and it is very sad to make them deal with a lockdown that is so haphazardly implemented without taking into account their needs for daily wages, food etc.
The post I had written was very emotional and a friend of mine came across it. She reached out to ask me if she could send some money and we could help a few families in a slum near my house with some ration. I agreed and she sent me Rs. 4000 which I used to make 3 ration kits and give to three families. I uploaded a picture of my friend who had made the donation. The moment I put up that post I was overwhelmed with responses of people who wanted to donate for the same cause. I got in touch with a wholesaler and arranged for a proper ration kit to be made which would be able to sustain a family of 4 for at least a month if not more. A lot of people are doing this activity but my economic philosophy is a little different – I believe the ration should last for at least a month since it makes no sense for the family to run out of resources within just a week. I carried out the activity with Rs. 70-80,000. A lot of families had put in applications with the government to receive ration but were unsuccessful due to multiple reasons such as lack of ration or adhar cards.
Mostly they were extremely poor, single mothers or widows. I was working in this manner for a while and then came across another news report of migrant workers who had died out of dehydration while travelling to their homes. Again this was extremely frustrating for me because nobody deserves to die in such a manner. I decided to do something about it and ended up at the Pune station and asked if I could distribute hydration kits to a few travellers. I saw a few people distributing water and cooked food to the migrants so I teamed up with them – I got water, somebody else got fruits, the Pune police gave us jaggery and milk and we made this comprehensive food kits which would last a couple of days and we distributed them to over 6000 migrants who were travelling to different parts of India. This took place over two days – 29th and 30th of May. It was a wonderful experience. I realised people were turning up without footwear so I talked to a shopkeeper who was kind enough to set up his shop and give me 15 pairs to provide to people. After that I resumed the ration work on a large scale with communities which were very distressed. The next thing we started was when we got news of labourers who wanted to try to return to Bengal but due to lack of numbers they were unable to request a train. Along with a couple of other organizations we raised money for them and sent them home via train.
This is the third activity. I don’t belong to any organization, it is a personal initiative. I have realised people find a personal initiative more trustworthy and I have collected somewhere about 2 and half Lakhs, with the help of friends, family etc. I do the ration delivery by and large by myself. When I need help I call my friends, predominantly from my school friends. At the station I teamed up with other organizations. For sending the migrants back I worked with this organization called The Indian Civil Liberties Union who are working on a national level organizing trains for the migrants and I work on the ground to help with the logistics of them reaching the station and having food and water for travel. I plan to keep taking this forward till I have funds. The upcoming intiative that I plan to take up is to deliver dry ration to sex workers since that is a profession that is one of the worst effected during this time.
A lot of these women and young girls are normally also isolated in society and even more so now. We’re also helping the transgender community of Pune. People who have run out of jobs are also being helped. We’re giving sanitary products to ladies who are distressed at this time as well. There was no planned target or goal and I had no idea that I would be doing this a month ago. It was a spur of the moment decision which was sparked off with the very first instance of my friend giving a small donation. And since then somebody of the other has come forward to provide funds for all these activities. It has grown from just ration to also providing workers with no homes to go back to with shelter and in some cases even jobs. The kind of relief I see on people’s faces when they get help is very rewarding. I believe that people like me are just mediums and the real credit lies with all those who donate so generously. I wouldn’t be able to do this on such a large scale.