In March, as the lockdown started, Valiben Palas, 58, from Raiyavan village in Dhanpur taluka of Dahod’s tribal district, was worried. She was unable to sell her produce of two quintals of wheat and one quintal maize farmed on her 15-bigha landholding.
Another widow from the same village, Shakuben Palas, 32, had run out of food. The BPL-card holder’s main source of income comes from a small half-acre landholding. To feed her family of three children, the sole breadwinner usually has to migrate to Saurashtra in the harvest season.
To their rescue came the Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation Utthan. The NGO, which works with tribal and coastal-district communities, has been taking ration and basic essentials to about 2,500 marginalised families in Bhavnagar, Dahod, Panchmahal and Mahisagar. These families live in abject poverty, mostly supported by single working women engaged in subsistence farming, onion dehydration, diamond-polishing units, etc., earning a rough average annual income of Rs 12,000-40,000. “The foodgrain for the 2,500 families has been purchased from the village community itself, from women farmers who otherwise would have sold the produce at low rates in desperation,” says Pallavi Sobti Rajpal, deputy chief executive officer, Utthan.
In Ahmedabad, like elsewhere in the country, several NGOs have been repurposing themselves to help stranded migrants, marginalised families and other groups seeking help during the lockdown.
The NGO Janvikas’ initiative Institute of Social Studies and Transformation (IST) has been helping migrant workers in containment zones. Till April end, the NGO channeled food from 15 self-run “dignity kitchens” to about 10,000 migrants, twice a day, in 10-12 clusters of 300-400 workers in each. With the extension of the lockdown to May 31, however, they faced resource crunch. The number of kitchens reduced to 12, catering to 5,000 migrants, until they were shuttered on May 15, when the permission to operate expired.
Four of their 20 frontline volunteers tested positive for coronavirus, and one died, says Ajaz Shaikh, advocacy coordinator at IST. There was a dip in motivation among the volunteers and pressure from their families to stay put indoors. Many volunteers’ family members also tested positive.
The focus has shifted now to assisting migrants to reach their homes. The challenge is getting them out of the red-zone areas, as getting authority approvals isn’t easy, adds Shaikh. The NGO has helped migrants register for Shramik trains and ferried them intercity and intracity to board these trains.
The Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT)’s Lalita Krishnaswamy says they have fostered COVID-19 awareness among 3,91,805 individuals, mobilised Rs 6 million through government subsidies and packages, provided seven million meals and 14,682 safety kits to 10,698 individuals and the homeless.
The cooperatives’ collective Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Federation has employed its nearly 100 women members in preparing masks, sanitisers and supplying vegetables. “Over 1 lakh face masks,” says managing director Mittal Shah, “have been sent to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, and to hospitals, other businesses and those in need.” Tribal women-farmer members are using WhatsApp to train others and spread awareness about COVID-19. It also distributes sanitary pads, and urges employers of domestic workers to pay full salaries for the last two months. “I got my salary for March which was directly deposited into my bank account,” says Champaben Gamit, a caregiver to 80-year-old Minalba who has limited mobility.
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