As Mumbai prepared for the ‘Diya Jalao’ initiative at 9 pm Sunday, a loud argument broke out at the Civil Defence Ambivali Maidan camp, near Versova Metro station, as Home Guards and Civil Defence volunteers served them food in aluminium foil containers. It is unpalatable, complained some of them even as volunteers at the camp tried to assure them it will be replaced.
The nine minutes, since 9 pm, went unnoticed at the camp, housing 285 people stranded due to the 21-day nationwide lockdown, even as nearby residential high-rises lit up with lamps and reverberated with the sound of conches and claps.
Kamal Paswan (36), who worked as a nurse at a private clinic, came to the Maidan after she was stranded at Kurla LTT when the railways shut down services in the wake of the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. “I am a widow. My son lives in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. I was going to Vadodara for work. My phone was stolen at the station. I had no way of informing my son about my position. I have no money and I eat whatever anyone gives me,” said Paswan as she fanned her face with a newspaper.
Paswan, like many at the shelter, did not seem to know why diyas were being lit at 9 pm Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday had urged people to switch off house lights and light lamps, torches or mobile phone flashlights for nine minutes at 9 pm Sunday to expressed solidarity in the nation’s fight against coronavirus pandemic.
Vinod Mankar, a daily wage worker who couldn’t make to his home in Nagpur, complained about the quality of the food. “I cannot I eat this food,” he said.
As stacks of uneaten khichdi lay on a table, a Home Guards official at the shelter announced on a hand-held microphone: “We are trying to re-arrange food. If you think it is not good, are we responsible for it? We have not prepared it, but we have sent a message for it to be replaced. Please have patience.”
Migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, several districts of Maharashtra and some from the streets of Mumbai have been bunched together in the camp. Set up by Harmony Foundation and run by state Home Guards and civil defence volunteers, the camp has made arrangement for mattresses, bedsheets, mosquito repellants, mobile toilets and floor fans.
Dr Abraham Mathai, chairman of Harmony Foundation, said, “While the nation gets together to beat the darkness of coronavirus by lighting lamps and diyas, hundreds and thousands of immigrant workers are still stranded with no place to go.”
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