13, May 2020 | CJP Team
Ever since the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus began migrant workers have perhaps been the worst hit. As most of them work as daily wage earners in fields like construction, loading and unloading of goods or running deliveries, they lost their source of income overnight. With little or no savings, the prospect of starvation loomed large upon them.
CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad says, “CJP’s experience in the greater Mumbai region especially in dealing with food rations for migrant labour populations from Marathwada, Vidharbha, Jharkand, Bihar, Orissa and Bengal has been an eye-opener for an organisation that works in the field of human rights. From the issue of basic food and livelihood and health security and rights for these populations, that provide the economic grist to the big city’s economy, to their right to go home, so much has come to light and become clear. We hope in the future to engage on the issue of the basic civil, political and economic rights of these populations.”
The nationwide lockdown has adversely impacted the livelihood of daily-wage earners and people in low-income jobs. Families of thela-wallas, taxi and auto rickshaw drivers, vegetable vendors, carpenters, scrap purchasers, delivery boys, waiters, domestic helps, people with HIV/AIDS, transgender persons, sex workers, orphans and destitute people need our urgent help to tide over the COVID crisis. CJP has partnered with several like-minded organisations to provide ration and essential supplies to over 5,000 such families across the Mumbai Metropolitan region. We urge you to donate generously so that nobody goes to bed hungry.
CJP had a keen eye on the crisis from the very beginning because we knew how migrant workers were some of the most vulnerable people in this unplanned lockdown.
“The unfortunate part is that the unorganised sector that runs our economies is data-less, there is poor official data recording and analysis. So many of these issues need to be addressed as also the gender aspects within these populations. There is much to do and we are looking into this. It poses a huge challenge to the human rights community and CJP,” adds Setalvad.
Therefore, CJP was constantly in touch with various people, unions as well as groups working closely with migrant communities. This is how we were able to reach out to close to 6,000 families of migrant workers hailing from Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Rajasthan, and even those who come from far-flung villages in interior Maharashtra. Our trucks and tempos made deliveries across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.
CJP makes ration deliveries across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane
CJP would get frantic requests from people whose families were forced to skip meals. Anwarul Haq who hails from Bihar told us, “Please help us. We are in big trouble. There is no ration and we are 122 people. We don’t have anything to eat. There is some organisation who distributes packed food but that is also not regular. If this continues then we will die and the police is beating us if we go out.”
Safikul Islam a migrant worker originally from West Bengal told CJP, “I can’t even tell you how are we feeling and how we are spending our days without food. In the afternoon we are getting packed food but no dinner. We are just having tea in the night. Please help us with ration otherwise it will be difficult for us to survive.”
On April 3 we came to know about the requirement of food supplies for 45 families of migrant workers from Jharkhand. This included an 11-year-old boy who was a cancer survivor and needed home cooked meals. This was an urgent request and we raced against time to resolve it within a day!
When a prominent politician contacted CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad about migrants from West Bengal and Odisha being in urgent need of rations, we once again swung into action and provided much needed supplies to 200 families of Bengali migrant workers in Juhu Galli on April 9. The Bangla Sanskriti Manch also brought to our attention thousands of other cases of migrant workers’ families hailing from West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha living in different parts of Mumbai who were on the brink of starvation.
Throughout April, deliveries were also made to migrant workers these families living in huts in Cuffe Parade, rooms in Dongri, Kalbadevi and Fort area of South Mumbai. Supplies were also delivered to workers from Bengal living in in the Guzder Bandh area as well as workers from Bhagalpur and Begusarai living in Bandra East. Over 1,000 ration kits were supplied to migrants from Birbhum and Murshidabad living in Vikhroli and Andheri.
“We had no ration for 10 days for 10 of us when CJP contacted us,” said 46-year-old Basir Shaikh from Birbhum. Shaikh has been living and working in Mumbai for 5 years as a construction worker. “While some people got aid via the government, CJP’s aid came at the right time to help all of us out,” he added.
“We were in quite a bad situation, but thanks to CJP’s help we are in a better state now,” said Asgar Shaikh, a 42-year-old a construction worker also hailing from Birbhum.
CJP also made deliveries to migrant families in Kashimira, Mira Road and Bhayander in Thane District. We also supplied rations to migrant workers from Rajasthan living in Kherwadi.
Throughout this mammoth exercise CJP faced many challenges. For instance, we would initially be told supplies were required for 20 people. But when we reached the spot, we would discover that those 20 people represented 20 different families and there were at least 60-70 mouths to feed!
Often people who reached out to us were already quite distressed. They would say that they are eating one meal a day and were not sure if they would get another the next day. But we have limited means and so we would have to request them to wait while we made arrangements. Making someone wait for food knowing that they don’t have any, is heartbreaking. But we tried our best.
Initially when we started coordinating the relief efforts with the Collector, official procedures required beneficiaries to provide identity proof such as Aadhaar cards. But some people were very suspicious of this because of fears related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). We had to make them understand that while we understood their apprehensions, ration distribution is tied to Aadhaar and therefore they would be required to produce their Aadhaar cards.
Also, because of our commitment to ensure that nobody went to bed hungry CJP would not turn down requests no matter how few were the number of mouths to feed or how far away they were. We got a request from one family outside Panvel. They were virtually in the middle of nowhere and were cut off from all relief supplies. But luckily, we had a CJP team in Vashi that day who were procuring foodgrains from the APMC market. This team took a detour and went all the way to where the family was to deliver them emergency supplies.
Here are a few images from our deliveries made to migrant workers: