A pneumonia of unknown causes was detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 by the WHO (World Health Organisation). The virus has spread to more than 200 Countries and Territories all over the world with reported a total of 2,013,998 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 with 127,590 deaths till date.
India has a huge population many of whom have little or no education, are extremely poor with no financial reserves, live in very basic conditions, and have limited access to satisfactory medical care (India has only 100,000 ventilators). The situation is much further compounded by the most evil virus of discrimination suffered by Scheduled Castes (Dalits), Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and religious minorities (particularly Muslims and Christians). The Central Government locked down the entire nation on the 25th of March without proper planning to contain the COVID – 19 pandemic, with the result that those who are discriminated against are suffering and will suffer from unimaginable hardships. They include domestic workers, daily wage earners, manual scavengers, farm labourers, construction workers, rag pickers, etc. In the nationwide lockdown, they are unable to go out and earn some money to feed their family/children. Even though the State and Central Governments are trying to reach out to all those who are in need, it is an impossible task, India having a population of 1.4 billion people, and governments rely on NGOs and voluntary organizations to help.
Government’s loopholes in response to COVID – 19
Although the State and Central Governments as well as various NGOs and civil society bodies are doing what they can, their capacity to help is limited by many factors. They include the following:
- According to the Global Hunger Index, India ranked 102 out of 117 in 2019, behind its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh. If in normal times many people have to survive without proper food, what will happen to such people when the nation is in lockdown? The plight of children is going to be worse. According to UNICEF, malnutrition causes 69% of deaths of children below the age of five in India in “normal” times, and every second woman is anemic.
- The Government is providing three months’ ration to BPL (Below Poverty line) cardholders. The majority of the poor are not able to be BPL cardholders, not because they are not eligible, but due to local government corruption. They cannot access this help as a result.
- The government has introduced help lines by which affected people can reach the Government for assistance, but many of them are not working properly or are too busy to be accessible to all who need help. Moreover, the UP Government’s helpline is providing only one day’s cooked food but that is not sufficient for a family of 5 to manage throughout the lockdown.
- Many essential goods such as grains, vegetables and milk, are required, but purchasing them requires money. Millions of people have little or no money, because of the lockdown, which has now been further extended until 3rd May 2020, and even after that the situation is very unclear.
- India suffers terribly from caste-based discrimination and corruption. It is well known that people who are lower in the caste ladder get less than their fair share from government relief work.
- Labor migration is a very common phenomenon in India, millions of workers leaving their villages to find employment in the towns as it is very limited in the villages. Employment in villages and small towns is especially difficult for those communities who are discriminated against for obvious reasons. The sudden nationwide lockdown in India left many migrant laborers without food for even one day. The situation was made worse by the closing of state borders and the stopping of all public transport. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, are stranded not only without jobs but without food. According to a survey conducted by Jan Sahas Social Development Society, a Madhya – Pradesh based NGO, 33% of their respondents were still stuck in the cities they worked in with little or no access to food, water, and money. The lockdown leaves such people destitute and living in the worst situations. They are more likely to catch the virus under such conditions and when they eventually are able to return to their villages, they will take it with them leading to further waves of the virus, where medical support is much, much worse than in the towns.
- Many have had no option but to walk sometimes several hundred miles to their homes, often carrying young children.
- Those who could not travel and stay in the towns receive no money from their Many of those with BPL cards are not able to benefit from them as those cards are only applicable in their place of origin, and not in the towns where they are stuck. As a result construction workers from Rajasthan cannot have access to the Public Distribution System in Delhi where they work.
- The situation is made worse because they do not belong to the local community and so are often overlooked by local officials, or suffer from corruption. This is made worse if they are looked down upon because of their caste/religion .
Response to COVID -19 so far
- NAGALOKA Alumni have formed a coordination team of 12 members from different parts of India.
- The Alumni come from many different states across India, and most are from discriminated and vulnerable communities, and so know very well the needs of these communities. They first identify the essential required of the communities through a baseline survey and inform the coordination team of what is required..
- 27 volunteers are working in 8 states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya- Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) covering 15 districts and around 50 villages so far. Till now we have supported 455 families that constitute 2000 individuals by providing them ration for between 15 and 20 days. We want to scale up our response as much as possible, especially reaching out to the poorest of the poor who others cannot reach. We still do not know how long the lockdown will last.
- Many of our alumni are working with other NGOs to help. Others are working directly with Government officials. They collect information from villages and inform Government authorities for providing them ration, cooked food, medicines and so forth.
- We are working in 08 states where a total of 15 districts have been covered so far. Moreover, we are receiving many appeals not only from our alumni but from other volunteers who wish to work with us. We are expanding our area to cover 11 additional states covering 26 districts where our alumni with support of other volunteers will distribute ration kits to badly affected families. These troubles are set to continue for months. As soon as we can we will expand our area of action, and the number of volunteers we involve.
- We plan to transfer some amount of money through DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) to the community’s bank account so they can utilize it for buying essential goods like grains, milk, vegetables, sanitary pads, medicines, etc.
- With regard to migrant labour, we will cover the states of Telengana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra-Pradesh and Orissa, where many are stranded and our alumni are in contact with them. We will provide them 15 to 20 days ration, masks and sanitizers, and 1500 rs cash so that they can buy or access the essential goods like milk for their children, vegetables, emergency medical support, and sanitary pads. etc. At first we will work with almost 900 migrant labor who are worst affected, for which we will require about Rs 500,000. We are continually developing our work and will gradually reach more and more such people. If this goes well we will extend our outreach.
- Action Points:
Baseline survey – Our Volunteer alumni will do baseline surveys through which they will identify groups which require essential goods like grain, vegetables, milk, sanitary pads, medicines, etc. This survey will identify malnurished children, children needing milk, families with no left money to buy these goods even for one day. (Note- our alumni is doing baseline surveys so far but not at a professional level because the situation is getting worse day by day and they can’t record all those things. Many shops are not open right now).
- State Coordinators – We have a state coordinator in the states we are working in. The volunteer reports to the state coordinator about their identified list of the families, completing an appeal form stating the amount of money required. The appeal form included the number of families, cost of ration for each family, ration for targeted days, etc.
- Besides essential rations, masks and sanitizer are distributed by our volunteers.
- Creating awareness – While distributing rations, masks and sanitizers, the alumni volunteers spread awareness among the villages/individuals by referring to WHO’s guidelines on COVID – 19 pandemic.
- Direct Benefit Transfer – Because of the length of the lockdown, many in our target groups are left with no money. We plan to deposit at least 1500 to 2000 RS to these families’ bank accounts through online transactions. This amount of money will help them out by purchasing the milk for their 0 to 2 years children, vegetables, medicines, sanitary pad, etc.
Budget – funds required.