Kolkata: The worst affected by the 21-day ongoing lockdown which has been imposed to break the chain of COVID-19 virus, are the poor, daily wagers, migrant workers and homeless wandering on the streets. The sudden lockdown announcement, has affected these people the most. With the streets being deserted, the beggars, destitute and street urchins have been left on their own to fend for their survival.
However, keeping the plight of the poorest of the poor in mind, a healthy number of Good Samaritans, social activists, non government organization (NGO)s and corporates of Kolkata have come forward to lend a helping hand in these trying times.
Food For All
Take the example of Apna Kitchen, an initiative of The Siri Saqti Foundation (TSSF) – a Non-Governmental Organisation, which aims to provide homemade meals for migrant labours and those staying alone or can’t cook a meal or ask others in need.
Md Bilal Anwar, a member of Foundation, has been leading this initiative from Amartalla lane in central Kolkata. Speaking to eNewsroom, he said, “This service is open to all those in need, irrespective of one’s identity. We serve only vegetarian home-made meals, twice a day to people in need. We have been operating right from the day the lockdown was announced. We even cater to a specific dietary requirement of a person approaching us.”
Also, coming to the rescue of those in need was Darjeepara Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samity. Sandip Bose, a member of the Samity said, “When the lockdown was announced, there was an acute shortage of hand sanitizers. We made our own concoction as we felt the need to distribute sanitizers to the people. Even now, people are coming with their own containers to take away sanitizers. We have distributed 150 litres of sanitizers till now. We have also distributed rice, potatoes and salt. Around 3 tonnes of rice, we are distributing daily apart from giving away cooked food to the people on the streets.”
He added, “We are procuring our vegetables directly from Burdwan so that we get it at a cheaper rate compared to the city. People from as far as Hoogly have called us for help. In Kolkata, our volunteers are surveying areas where people need food, from north to south, and then going there to distribute. We have around 150 volunteers, who are fanning out to as far as Burdwan, Srirampur to help people as for us, Durga Puja is not just an occasion. We believe in reaching out to people when they need help.”
It’s not cooked meals that these volunteers are helping with, but also with making rations available to vulnerable people. “We have been regularly providing ration kits to families of daily wage labours, rag pickers, rickshaw pullers and the destitute living Tangra, Topsia, Mallickpur, Park Circus, Khidderpore, Zakaria Street and South Kolkata,” said Ovaiz Aslam, founder, Indian Pluralism Foundation. He added, “With the help of our donors we have been able to support over 1450 families in the mentioned localities.”
For former KMC MMiC Faiyaz Ahmed Khan, it has been a tough situation to be in. He is leading a team who under the banner of CITU have been on the streets, distributing cooked food to the needy.
“When the government announced the lockdown without any prior notice, lot of hawkers and daily wage earners were stranded and caught off-guard. They had no money and food to survive the 21 days. So, we are serving these people with meals twice a day right now, we have managed to reach out to people in New Market and Fancy Market areas. But, people from different areas are messaging us that they are also in need of food,” said Khan.
And besides cooked food, Khan also informed that he has arranged ration for 70 families of Tiljala area.
Watch CITU’s meal distribution work in Esplande area
Meheli Sain, a research scholar at Visva-Bharati University, celebrated her birthday on March 28 with the tribals of a small village, off Bolpur. She used her savings to provide essentials for 50 tribal people at Ramnagar village in Ilambazar thana area.
“Most of the villagers are aged and collect leaves from the nearby forest. They make plates out of the leaves and then sell it to nearby markets to earn a meagre amount. But with the markets closed they have nothing to eat and are starving. I believe if everyone does their bit in this hour of crisis, we can overcome the grim situation easily,” said Meheli.
Special Kit For Women
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, women and children have emerged as the most vulnerable. Understanding the need of women during the lockdown period, Dhorshok Tumi-I (Kolkata Chapter of the A Rapist In Your Way – Feminist Socio-Political Movement – that started in Chile in 2019) and Women’s Solidarity Network along with the help of volunteers took up the initiative of providing special kits to women, particularly mothers in various area.
“We have seen reports on the rise of domestic violence during the lockdown, Babies and children are going hungry. This, in turn, creates a huge burden on mothers. We also know how the government has forgotten to include sanitary napkins in the list of essential items. Hence, we shall be preparing kits containing powder milk, soap, ORS sachets, sanitary napkins and provide a helpline number to reach out in case of a mental health crisis or domestic abuse. These kits will be given to volunteers providing ration to those in need,” said Joyee Roy, member of Dhorhok Tumi-i group.
Service in uniform
IC Bidhannagar (East), along with his personnel, has reached out to the needy in his area to serve daily essentials apart from serving food to street dogs. “It is a humanitarian gesture. We are not alone. Many of our fellow policemen are also doing their bit when people need help the most,” said an officer.
Corporate Come To Rescue
Urja Foundation, the CSR wing of the Urja Group, has also come forward to distribute food packets in different parts of the city. They have been helping around 1000 people daily.
M K Anchalia, a trustee of Urja Group told eNewsroom, “We have been distributing in Kalighat, Salt Lake, Rajarhat areas. We are distributing around 1,000 food packets a day, for a week, now. Most of the beneficiaries are daily wagers. We have also been in touch with doctors and have provided medical advice to people in need. Our foundation has also been providing shelter to the homeless, mostly beggars. We have also been involved in the mass distribution of essentials to the needy during this lockdown.”
Helping Beyond Kolkata
The volunteers are not just helping the destitute of Kolkata, but beyond. Take the example of Ujjaini Halim, a social activist, who along with several other volunteers has been reaching out to the poor and the needy in Birbhum and Burdawan (West Bengal), Dumka (Jharkhand), and Balasore and Bhadrak during the lockdown. The relief work is being done under the banner of Ujjaini’s NGO Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (IMSE).
Speaking to eNewsroom, she said, “Initially we had been raising awareness camps in these districts, to help the people contain stop Coronavirus from spreading. But when the lockdown was announced, we realised that many of the people living in these areas were extremely vulnerable. Hence, we decided to provide ration to 3000 such families in these five districts. We have also provided soap to 5000 families.”
A quarantine centre has also been set up by IMSE in Birbhum for migrant workers and can house at least 60 such workers. Ujjaini and her team plan to make medicine easily available in these districts.