The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in India promptly led to a national lockdown. With factories and other work-places shut down, millions of migrant workers dealt with multiple hardships in the form of loss of income, food shortage, unemployment and uncertainty about their future. Additionally, thousands of them were either stranded or had to walk back to their native home states with no means of any transport due to the lockdown. As a result, more than 300 migrant workers died with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, physical exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care.
Since then, the government has announced relief measures for migrants while making arrangements for migrants to return to their native place. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of India, on June 9th 2020, directed central and state governments to complete transportation of remaining stranded migrants and expand the focus of relief measures to facilitate employment for returning migrants.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, JVI reached out to its survivors who are still within the 24-month aftercare oversight and protection. These survivors were once rescued from commercial sexual exploitation, forced forms of labour in brick kilns, agriculture bonded labour and factories among others. A total of 196 rescued families were identified residing across various districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, with a majority of them located in Gaya and Madhuban.
These survivors no longer had daily wage jobs. Moreover, with travel restrictions imposed, they found it difficult to obtain food, given the scarcity of resources. The inability to pay ongoing tuition and fees for those enrolled in further education forced many to drop out of their classes. Families also informed us that they did not have ration cards, which further contributed to not being able to access food.
Recognizing these needs, JVI and its local NGO partners devised an emergency relief plan which included distributing financial assistance to each family as well as linking them to government welfare bodies which could provide food rations and propane tanks for cooking. This emergency assistance sustained the survivors for the first few weeks of the lockdown.
Additionally, JVI and its local NGO partners provided the survivors with increased awareness on reducing the risk of COVID infection while informing them of government guidelines and specific COVID-related government sponsored programs which they could access, such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (for financial loans), the Public Distribution System Centre (for ration distribution) and the Ujjawala Yojana (for free propane gas tanks) in their respective districts. By accessing these programs, the survivors managed to further secure two more months of rations and other benefits.
Survivors’ Words of Appreciation
“Our situation came to an extent where we had to beg and fill our stomachs. But you people came and supported us, thank you for helping us.”
“Suddenly you came in with cash support. First time in my life I have seen such kind people like you who are supporting us without asking anything in return. We are neither relatives nor do we hold any blood relation yet you people are supporting us always. May God keep you and your family members. Be always safe and happy.”
“I was working as a laborer and suddenly news came of COVID lockdown and I was shocked and I thought we would die out of hunger. But in between you came and helped not only me but also my whole family.”
“I have no words to say except thank you for helping us in need. I feel that God has sent you all to help us.”
“Thank you from the depth of my heart.”
“When we were in trouble and when we were working under cruel employers you came to us and gave us freedom. Because of you only now are we relaxed this support of money to buy rations when we were not having a single bite of food. God will give you reward for your work. We poor people will pray for you.”
“It was difficult for me to earn food for my family, as I don’t have work to do. My family was not able to get food for some time. I am very thankful for the support provided by JVI and EFICOR as I am now able to feed my family.”
“Just this morning I was thinking of how to manage our food as we did not have enough for dinner. During this lockdown, we have gone to sleep without food sometimes as we did not have enough stock. Now suddenly I got money into my bank account and a phone call from the social worker informing me that I can purchase food rations for myself and my family. Now I don’t have to worry about food for one month!”