Paying back our debt to the most exploited communities in the COVID-19 crisis period

Deepa Pawar
Posted April 4, 2020 from India
relief (1/16)

About a week ago, a 21-day lockdown was announced in India, as a measure to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the local and state administrations are working round the clock trying to work out the logistics of such a lockdown of 1.3 billion people, many activists and NGOs like us started worrying how we will survive such a period financially.

Daily wage workers, migrant laboures, Nomadic Tribes, adivasi (tribal) families, households headed by disabled persons, etc. have no fixed income and almost no savings. Another very vulnerable group are sanitation workers who come from the poorest backgrounds. They are risking their lives everyday since the lockdown working overtime to clean & disinfect our cities and villages. All of these communities have been historically exploited by mainstream society - and even now, they are the ones bearing the brunt of the pandemic. We strongly state that our relief work being carried out right now is nothing but a very small effort to pay back a tiny part of our debt to them.

As all work had closed down since even before the official lockdown, we immediately started assessing the short and long-term impact on these groups.

Firstly, volunteers and team members were trained on an immediate basis to start on-call counselling with the youth, women and clients of our programs - this was highly necessary with the panic spread by false or lack of information. Along with counselling, we dived headlong into relief work - which we have never done before but we realized we must do to ensure survival. 

Since movement had been restricted, most of us could not leave our localities to carry out the assessment and start relief work. Therefore, we mobilized our team members and youth leaders who live in the communities where we work. They were trained on the phone on doing needs assessment, sourcing ration, and distributing the same while taking precautions against the COVID-19 virus. This was not an easy task for the youth; relief work is fraught with social and political challenges, along with an emotional challenge since the supply is always much less than the demand in face of the surging need of hundreds of families who are all vulnerable to various extents in communities.

With constant coordination on the phone, a team member in Ambivali and youth leaders in Dombivali - suburbs outside Mumbai in Maharashtra state, have till date reached over 130 of the most vulnerable families who work under the most trying conditions, eg. in brick kilns, as construction workers, blacksmiths, etc. Even on a 'normal' day they lead a life of abject poverty and vulnerability. They also majorly belong to the most deprived rungs of Indian society - the nomadic tribes, adivasis, and oppressed castes.

Simultaneously, we started reaching out to even more vulnerable families across Maharashtra state. I am myself from a nomadic tribe and have closely seen and continue to see the terrible struggle of my people who have been branded 'criminals' by the erstwhile British rulers as revenge for having risen up in rebellion against them. This stigma has still not left our nomadic tribe communities. The fact that I am one of the first and very few post-graduates from my entire community from the whole of India - speaks loudly about our condition. Majority of these tribes are currently struggling to still complete primary education - where other mainstream society has been aspiring and attaining doctorates and other higher education since generations.

I, with help from local contacts in villages across Maharashtra, started reaching people most in need. Asking for documents, photographs, bank account details - from families who don't even have a phone - and screening of all the above for authenticity has become a 24x7 job. Till date we have reached over 100 families across 8 districts - reaching about 600 people with financial aid to tide over these extremely distressing times.

It is close to impossible for me to share stories of these people - the backwardness of their situation in this 21st century is more than is possible for me to describe right now. Photographs will perhaps suffice to show their situation.

Last but not the least, our regular program participants - youth, women and clients - who are themselves from families struggling to get food and essentials have also been reached with direct bank transfers to help them tide over this difficult period. About 30 more families have thus been reached.

We truly thank Mariwala Health Initiative for supporting these initiatives with a very generous grant without which this work would have been possible. Their partnership is not just that of a donor but very much that of a co-activist. 

We also thank our individual donors who have come forth with generous support. We however need to continue to fundraise; the need is incredibly huge, with already vulnerable families being pushed beyond existence and more and more people forced into abject poverty, as livelihood remains closed day after day. 

For anyone wishing to donate, please message me or Indian donors can use this PayU link.  

All Indian Donations to Anubhuti Charitable Trust are tax exempt under section 80G of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

This story was submitted in response to Dispatches from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Comments 11

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Jill Langhus
Apr 04, 2020
Apr 04, 2020

Hello Again Deepa,

Thanks for sharing your photos. So they have to wait in line to get rice? Are these the people that you're helping or people that are getting government foot rations? I do hope they get what they need.

anita shrestha
Apr 04, 2020
Apr 04, 2020

Thank you for sharing

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Apr 05, 2020
Apr 05, 2020

Dear sister Deepa,

My eyes are in tears. I am so touched by your gestures of kindness. I love reading stories like this when people like you respond the call to care to those who are vulnerable. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am very impressed, dear sister, with the impact you made:

"Till date we have reached over 100 families across 8 districts - reaching about 600 people with financial aid to tide over these extremely distressing times."

I am so proud of you, dear sister!

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 05, 2020
Apr 05, 2020

Dear Deepa,
This is the real work, and with the population of your country and the numbers of disadvantaged and discriminated peoples it is hard to imagine the strength you and others working with you have had to muster to plan and begin to implement this critical work. It is time for us to raise our voices collectively that all of the governments of the world prioritize the people who have been working the hardest for the least amount of money, and given the global economy so interwoven, all governments are responsible for the current unfairness. Your work is the most important and I hope funds come fast and in the amounts overdue. The mobilization you describe here is brilliant.

Abha Singhvi
Apr 10, 2020
Apr 10, 2020

So impressed by your work. I’m amazed at you and your team’s ability to pivot and offer your services during lockdown to support the most vulnerable where it’s not just their livelihoods but their lives are at stake.
I admire your commitment and your stand for your community.
Best Wishes

Anita Shrestha
Apr 10, 2020
Apr 10, 2020

Great sharing

Apr 14, 2020
Apr 14, 2020

Waooh Deepa you are very busy this period even with the lockdown. Kudos to your effort and all the volunteers. Trust you are safe with all the volunteers and family. Thank you for your great support.

Apr 21, 2020
Apr 21, 2020

Hello Beautiful Sister,
Thank you for sharing.Stay safe .Much love.

Sampada Sapkota
Apr 25, 2020
Apr 25, 2020

Hi dear Deepa,
Thanks for sharing! You've done a really good job! The same condition is in our country too. And as you've mentioned "Daily wage workers, migrant laboures, Nomadic Tribes, adivasi (tribal) families, households headed by disabled persons, sanitation workers. " are affected the most!
Let's pray that this pandemic sops very soon!
Stay safe,dear!

Sinyuy Geraldine
May 11, 2020
May 11, 2020

Hello Deepa, thank you so much for this hearty, kind humanitarian work you and your team are doing. May God bless your effords.

Steph L
Nov 26, 2020
Nov 26, 2020

Such meaningful work you and your fellow volunteers are doing Deepa!

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