Lockdown did not keep her down
Nishath, a resident of Injambakkam, is sparing no effort to help the families of the migrant workers who are stranded in Chennai alone without a job, with their family members left to fend for themselves at their hometowns. She is single-handedly spearheading a team to make sure that around 200 families in Kasbatoli, Bihar are fed during this crisis. She narrates how one thing led to another and she found herself organising a humongous project to help the inhabitants of a remote area in Bihar. She has a big heart that reached thousands of miles to lend a helping hand.
A phone call that led to many things
Since the lockdown began, while staying safe and adhering to rules of social distancing, I started helping various migrant families. This kept extending to people who called for help from different parts of the city, including a group of 9 migrants from Bengal, from a construction site on Anna Salai.
I was approached by Ansar and Rubina, a couple from Kasbatoli, Bihar who I had met when their baby had heart surgery at MIOT hospitals. We had funded the surgery through CHIME, which I head.
Since March, this couple kept calling me about the hunger and poverty in their village. After their third call, I took the hint, and I thought I would try to see how or what help they needed. We are aware that a good majority of the migrant population comes from Bihar as they are very backward and do not have any job prospects in their village.
However, they were asking me if I could help their village. I accepted to help 100 families and I asked them to do a census, but it stretched to 220 families by the time it reached me. Then I started sharing the information with my contacts, and many came forward to pitch in generously.
I also sat down to gather information about the state of residents in Bihar. I got Ansar to get a group of 6 others to collect data based on a format I designed and send through WhatsApp. Ansar and his group had selected 220 families, based on their impoverished condition. In fact, the sarpanch says there are more than 500 families.
These selected families are those where the menfolk are stuck in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore, or are widowed, handicapped, etc. Those who were working outside have been unable to return before the lockdown and unable to earn to send home due to the lockdown. In the 200 families, there were around 80 boys above 15 years who go away to earn; 230 children under 15 years; 47 old and dependent for care; 55 widows who cannot go out but help in farms to earn a living, and 14 people who are physically disabled.
According to the locals, they have not received any relief aids by the government other than the regular rations that can be availed by only the cardholders.
After speaking to a few grocery shops at Barsoi, we finalised on a shop that helped us to plan a package containing the essentials of the villager’s staple diet:
4 kgs rice
1/2 ltr mustard oil
1/2 kg masoor dhal
2 kg potatoes
2 Marie biscuit packets
The total cost worked to Rs.67,100.
We created coupons with the shopkeeper’s seal on it to be distributed in advance before the goods reach the shop. The team working with me said that they have had no interaction with government officials or any benefits from the government.
While we have given them this small provision, I am working with NGO's and some Government officials to see how we can bring them under Government sustenance. I have been told by NGOs that this village is indeed very remote.
No doubt my friends and well-wishers helped me take it forward. The shopkeeper who supplied the rations realised that he had some money left because the dhal prices went down. He thus added chana and salt to the list and transported the material free of the cost himself as he feared police intervention. Ansar, the one who coordinated, did not receive any of what was distributed as he said he had done it for others who were less fortunate than him.
It was a great experience to do a remote control project in a remote place. But a greater lesson about being humane, which I saw in the actions of the shopkeeper and Ansar.
I hope to visit this place someday!