NEW DELHI/CHENNAI :
The first thing Shaikh Tabinda Adil did after watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the lockdown on 24 March was to call up her mother. Adil was in Malmal, a remote village in Bihar’s Madhubani district, while her mother was at their home in Mumbai.
“Ammi, I’m scared. What if something happens to you?" the University of Mumbai student cried. Adil, 22, had travelled to Malmal a month earlier to participate in the anti-Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) protests, and is now stuck there as states shut borders to control the spread of the coronavirus.
On the first morning of the lockdown, a child came crying to her, saying his family only had food for a week. “His father was working in Delhi as a labourer, and they couldn’t contact him." That’s when Adil realized her yearning for home was “a privilege". She got in touch with Fahad Ahmad, a senior research scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Mumbai’s face of protests against CAA, asking for financial help to distribute food kits in Malmal.
More than 1,000 young Indians, who were actively participating in protests against CAA, have now turned their focus on providing food for the needy during the lockdown, even as the Centre struggles to help migrant and daily-wage labourers during the pandemic. Utilizing the wide network created during the protests, the young men and women are identifying clusters that need food, mobile recharges and money, and are raising funds through word of mouth.
In the past two weeks, with the help of four volunteers, Adil has provided over 150 kits in Dokhar, Malmal and Ishlampur villages. A kit, which costs ₹650-700 includes 5 kg of rice and flour, 1 kg each of sugar, oil, dal and salt, two home-made face masks and eggs, and can feed a family of five for 10 days.
Likewise, in Mumbai, Ahmad, 27, is working with over 100 volunteers to distribute food kits across eight centres. “Our targets are daily-wage workers, migrant labourers, the elderly and families with children." The volunteers send money through digital payment apps to kirana shops and the local volunteers pick up the kits and deliver them, or they go to a store, buy the essentials and deliver them.
“Our operations have a clear approach since we have to be quick. It is a matter of life and death," said Ahmad. More than 1,000 kits have been distributed in Mumbai.
“The poor are the lifelines of our country, their work keeps our economy going. When you look at the way they are treated, you realize what really matters," said Maskoor Usmani, 26, former president of Aligarh Muslim University’s Students’ Union. He is looking after food distribution in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi with the help of 250 volunteers.
While Adil, Ahmad and Usmani faced problems with the police, who held up smooth distribution of kits, Jammu-based Guftar Ahmed, a lawyer, received help from the district magistrate (DM). “A few days ago, I got a call about 22 migrant labourers stuck in Rajouri for five days without food. The DM helped me reach them quickly," said Ahmed.
In Chennai, networks of volunteers, mostly created during the anti-CAA protests, are working with local authorities to ensure ration supplies reach as many stranded labourers as possible. “The protests brought together all kinds of people working in different sectors. We are now putting together dry rations and other essentials for those in need," said Azhar Moideen, a student of Indian Institute of Technology.
Volunteers are coordinating with non-profits and different state governments to locate the migrant labourers in Tamil Nadu and ensure supplies. They crowdsource money and transfer it to grocery shops near the clusters where the labourers are stranded.