Prutha group in action during Covid-19 lockdown days, here’s Tousif and his volunteers packing prepared food to be distributed to migrant workers and underprivileged
By Tara Narayan
Who thought at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown from March 22, 2020, that it would stretch on and on for so long and it would be 40 long days plus, plus and plus, before any semblance of normal routine life returned in public life? What is remarkable is that during times of emergency and stress there are always those who will rise to the occasion with donations of money, rations, cooked meals. In Goa it was no different. Here are some of the groups which came to the rescue of those in need during the darkest days of coronavirus epidemic gloom and doom which is ongoing…
JUST as in the big metros where the contagion made inroads in Goa too many led by some sterling quality individuals got themselves organized when the full humanitarian crisis of lockdown dawned on everybody and there was a scramble by many to hoard up or stock up on daily essentials at home commenced.
While most Goans managed to stock up their nests there were a whole lot of vulnerable groups and large numbers of migrant workers suddenly faced with the reality of being out of job and their meager funds running out, unable to pay for their rented accommodation — most employers gave them a pittance along with marching orders to wait it out till the lockdown is over and they were in business anew.
As the days and weeks passed and lockdown 1, 2, 3 and 4 stretched out it was the waiting and bankruptcy which stared them in the face which made thousands of migrant workers make up their minds to gallantly start walking to their home states no matter how far or what happened. A huge humanitarian crisis unfolded.
In all this the names of many individuals and NGOs shine up. We hear of Prutha Goa (Sheila Almeida, Aquib Shaikh, Iris Cecilia, Faith Gomes) banding together to distribute food and grocery packets, running errands of mercy for those in need or in trouble of whatever kind. Prutha Goa came into being after director and writer of tiatre Tousif de Navelim (aka Aquib Shaikh) remembered his father’s words of hunger in younger days. He decided he would put the Rs3,000 in his pocket to good use and bought rice and other ingredients to make a pulao and distribute it to migrant workers down south Goa experiencing tough times without rented accommodation or too much money in pocket. When the word got around several others pitched in and contributions came in with one Kashmiri bhaijan turning up at 1.50am to contribute Rs70,000 towards the cause of feeding migrant workers while they worked out how best they could get back to their home states as early as possible.
This Covid-19 Goa Humanitarian Lifeline is reportedly one of the largest distributing something like 1,600 lunch packets and 1,200 dinner packets on a daily basis, also groceries, adult diapers to the aged and bedridden. The Humanitarian Lifeline number is 0808831429, call anytime between 1pm to 7pm from Monday to Friday for more information. They’re reaching out to feeding poor in south Goa with a useful tie-up with big grocery supermarket chains like Magsons and Delfino’s where citizens who wanted to do their bit select a bag of groceries and pay for it for the group to distribute.
Then we hear of Vijaya Pais of Offbeat Goa also distributing rations and money. Other NGOs reaching out with help is Dr Kedar Padte’s One World Goa in collaboration with YUVA, who started running a community kitchen April 2020 to deliver decent home cooked meals to helpless seniors, the poor and homeless. But this happens only in Panaji. Call 9921788066 to register before 10am for a lunch drop off and 6pm for dinner. Call YUVA’s Akhil Prabhu Verlekar or Raghuvir Mahale on 9921788055 regarding this but remember this is free service is only for helpless senior citizens only in Panaji. YUVA is also engaged in other social facilitation works in collaboration with Centre for Incubation & Business Acceleration, Infinity 3D and Taleigao Panchayat. Amongst other things face shields have been donated to Covid-19 frontrunners like doctors, nurses and medical workers.
Perhaps the oldest NGO walking in the good samaritan’s footsteps is Street Providence – initiated by Donald Fernandes. It was established in 2018 and is a registered charity NGO. Based in Sangolda it has set up an interesting Food Bank to distribute free food at various places. Since the Covid-19 crisis they also have been offering free breakfast outside the GMC as also distributing masks. Many of the groups seem to have discovered the usefulness of stocking up mobile vans and parking themselves at vantage point places to distribute food, snacks and whatever else courtesy donations.
The Street Providence Trust Goa has a dedicated band of volunteers who come to the rescue of the homeless who’ve lost their raison’etre for living and offer them haircut, shave, bath, food and a place to stay until they get their life together anew. One hears that they have a tie-up with Biryani Hub, one of the first to offer biryani packets to be distributed for those caught in hunger situations created by the Covid-19 lockdown which commenced on March 22, 2020. Street Providence volunteers are available 24×7 and one may be in touch with Donald Fernandes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As lockdown 4.0 continues and the situation improves bit by bit it’s clear that the tragedy of migrant workers unable to return to their home states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and other places continues to come to the fore with frustrations on the rise and violence breaking out here and there. Police lathi charges have been reported.
Although the Central government has ordered something like 100 shramik trains daily across the country to help stranded migrant labor return home, workers are at the mercy of digital tyranny at its worse (believe or not). Running short with cash workers are reduced to paying quick fix agents to do online booking for them on one of the shramik express trains going to their home states. In fact, in Valpoi and Keri-Sattari a citizens group has volunteered to freely help hundreds of migrant workers do the needful by way on online booking or any paperwork. The Keri-United NGO is also distributing milk and other requirements to women and children of migrant workers out of job and shelter in the area.
Needless to say the aforementioned good Samaritans are earning the blessings of many in dire straits situations in Goa and now one hears of Roti Bank movement in Surat (Gujarat) where housewives of housing cooperative societies make extra roti in their kitchen. These are collected and deposited at the Roti Bank and from here roti and sabzi is distributed to the out of job and in distress migrant workers. There’s a Roti Bank of literally 1.5 lakh roti daily and these are distributed to the many walking by outside on the hot roads on the way home to their home states! The offer of a few roti with a dollop of sabzi is welcomed by the stressed out on their long march home. The NGO organizing this roti initiative for workers walking home to their home states is Prithi Shukla and her friends.
As the word spread that by the time this ongoing exodus home comes to an end it is not coronavirus epidemic or Covid-19 but starvation on the road which will take a heavier toll – more and more folk are organizing themselves to reach out to the beleaguered workers unable to book into any of the government organized trains and therefore simply choosing to walk home with family and pitiful baggage in tow. What happens once they get home hopefully in more or less one piece and safe even if terribly disillusioned…is another story. It is quite possible that more aam aadmi Indians will die of lockdown and not coronavirus infection by the time they get home.
As someone pointed out the damage in terms of death will be beyond belief, it’s not the elite who have lost jobs and reasons to live, but the poor people of India caught in a tragedy courtesy the vile politics of this country where ruling party and opposition party are at loggerheads, standing on ceremony about who is to be blamed more! A prime minister never tired of pointing that he heads a country of one billion three million people has nothing but platitudes to offer his people about how India is learning to be self-reliant in starvation if need be. Life is cheap, very cheap in poor little rich India.