Chintaharan, a father of three, and a migrant worker hailing from Patna’s Khagaul, was anxious to take his family back home. The family had been stranded in Delhi with no source of income and rapidly depleting resources since the Indian government announced the first countrywide COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March .
His children are eight, seven and two years old. A few days back, in a state of excruciating distress, Chintaharan reached out to an NGO, which in turn shared his plea for help with the “Shramik Saarthi” team. On Monday, Chintaharan and his family boarded the train from New Delhi to Patna.
Sarvan Kumar, a visually impaired person from Bhagalpur’s Brahampur village, used to sell ice cream for a living. The lockdown rendered him unemployed. Due to an acute shortage of food and supplies, his wife was compelled to take their two children, and leave for her father’s house.
The same group got in touch with Sarvan through the legal aid team of National Law University, Jodhpur and helped him with some ration and other essentials. Sarvan Kumar will not go hungry again, says the team. They plan to stay in touch with him in case of any other emerging needs. They also hope that Sarvan’s family will soon return home to him.
Shramik Saarthi is a ‘COVID-19 response resource centre’ set up by the alumni and students of Chanakya National Law University (CNLU), Patna, in collaboration with the university’s Child Rights Centre. The collective works with NGOs, independent volunteers and solidarity groups to provide relief and assistance to those who have been most gravely impacted by the pandemic and the lockdown.
Among other things, Shramik Saarthi provides assistance in financing and facilitating travel for migrant labourers from New Delhi to Bihar, supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits to healthcare professionals, and providing aid to the distressed and the underprivileged.
So far Shramik Saarthi has, in collaboration with other relief groups, provided buses for 30 migrant labourers from New Delhi and 32 others from Manesar who wanted to return to their homes in Bihar.
The team has also successfully distributed ‘dignity kits’, comprising of food grains, milk, masks and sanitary pads, to more than 500 workers in Delhi, and 30 families in Bihar, besides making food provisions for many stranded in other parts of the country.
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“When we cannot arrange buses for those who want to go home, or find them a seat on the special Shramik trains, we try to help by buying them regular train tickets,” says Manas Pandey, one of the co-founders of the collective. “But with the regular train tickets, there is the complication of waiting till the last minute to find out whether the group will get to go home or not.”
Harshit Anand, Yashwant Singh and Manas are former students of CNLU and convener-coordinators of the Shramik Saarthi initiative. On being asked what made them decide to do this, Manas says that they have spent five years of their lives in Bihar (as students of CNLU, Patna) and it all felt very close to home.
“So naturally,” he says, “the plight of the migrant workers hailing from the state felt personal.
Manas also tells us that they were inspired by the work done by students of National Law Institute University, Bhopal, in combating the issues faced by migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and helping many of them get home.
But Shramik Saarthi’s impact is not limited merely to Bihar. Along with providing food to migrants in other parts of the country, the team will also be providing 60 PPE kits to healthcare professionals working in a remote quarantine facility in Nagaland that specifically tends to HIV positive patients.
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Nidhi Gupta, a student of CNLU and a volunteer, confesses that the work they are doing has helped her grow more conscious of her privileges.
“It gave me a first-hand understanding of just how much the underprivileged can suffer at the hands of an indifferent or incompetent policy maker. At the same time, seeing how much change a small, unyielding group of people can bring to others’ lives, has filled me with a lot of hope.”
She also hopes that more people will come together and do more than just feel uncomfortable about social inequalities.
“I hope more people decide to take agency over their own lives and create the society that they want to live in by utilising their opportunities and their platforms to push for lasting social change,” says Nidhi.
Another Shramik Saarthi volunteer, Aman Naqvi, says that being there for the under-privileged during their worst years has changed his own life.
But this job does not come without certain monumental challenges. On some days, their duties entail struggling for essential permits, and on others, making sure that heavy monsoons don’t rain down on anyone’s hopes of making it home. At the present moment, however, Manas tells me that they are struggling to garner funds.
“So far, we have relied on social media to encourage people to contribute. CNLU alumni, their friends and family have been primary contributors. But now we have exhausted most of our financial resources,” says Manas.
Manas tells me they really want to carry on. They have enough energy left to do so. Their hopes are still high, and their spirit unabated. But without adequate resources, it is becoming increasingly hard.
“We want to arrange more buses to ensure safe and convenient travel for those who are still left behind. We also want to distribute more dignity kits to provide basic means of sustenance for families. All this can only be done with more money.”
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Aman tells us that another family will be boarding a train from New Delhi to Patna today – the same one that Chintaharan took today. He also hopes that, in the days to come, they will be able to continue doing the work they are doing right now.
Vinayak Dalmia, in a piece for Sunday Guardian, refers to the migrants as “India’s ever mobile human capital” and an “integral part of building the physical and tangibles of our nation.”
There is also no denying that the contributions of India’s migrant workers have made lives easier for all of us. As Dalmia points out, “They help build our roads, our bridges and our buildings.”
It is therefore, even more important that we pay our debts of gratitude to them, and come forward and help them crawl out of their misery. Organisations like Shramik Saarthi are trying relentlessly to ease their burden. But this is a resource-intensive mandate. Hence, it is essential that the rest of us assist them in doing the same.
Editor’s note: If you wish to donate to Shramik Saarthi, visit their donations portal here.
Mekhala Saran is a Delhi-based freelance journalist, writer, poet and final-year law student. She tweets @mekhala_saran.
Featured: The official Shramik Saarthi banner | Source: www.shramiksaarthi.in