Lakhs of migrants were left homeless on the streets without jobs or shelter after the government announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 owing to the Covid-19 outbreak. Over thousands of families had no resources to support themselves in the weeks to come.
However, few Samaritans immediately rose to the occasion to lend a helping hand to the fellow humans in Bhopal who roamed barefeet and hungry on the streets in the quest of food and shelter.
While most of the citizens confined themselves to the safety of their homes, these helpers put their own safety on risk to assist the helpless. Grouping up with the administration, they worked tirelessly for months to ensure essentials including food and ration reached out to the needy.
Founder of city-based volunteer organisation 'Dream Bhopal-Green Bhopal', Sparsh Dwivedi, said that his group partnered with other organisations to raise funds through campaigns on Facebook and started distributing food and ration packets in parts of the city. Sparsh Dwivedi, an insurance sector professional garnered support from an NGO, Mahashakti Seva Kendra, led by volunteer activist Pooja Iyengar despite both having elderly parents at their homes.
In total, we distributed around 10,000 food packets and reached out to 1,000 families with ration packets, said Sparsh Dwivedi. By the second phase of the Covid-19 lockdown, we had started taking to field and by then, there were thousands of migrant labourers passing through Bhopal, he added.
The volunteer organisations then collaborated with the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) and through five call centres, they collected upto 18,000 footwear and around 10,000 food packets with biscuits and snacks. Every day, they spent two-three hours at the bypass distributing relief material to the migrant workers including food, water bottles, gamchhas, footwear, milk, sanitary napkins and so on, Besides, we also distributed glucose and ORS packs during those times as the weather was extreme, claimed the young volunteer.
Recounting the troubled times, he said that a single loading auto used to carry up to 20 plus people and a whole family used to travel in auto rickshaws across several states. "People on the roads hardly had anything and used to jostle it out for food and water bottles," he added.
During one such incident, the volunteers found an old man walking barefoot from Sagar to Indore. Upon noticing his plight as he was spotted at the bypass, they then offered him food and shoes.
Narrating another heart-wrenching tale, the volunteer said there were over 30 migrant workers including women and kids who were stuck in Bangrasiya area and had nothing amid the lockdown. For a week, the migrants survived on biscuits and raw rice drenched in water as they had no means to cook. Afterwards we had taken care of their food and ration needs, Dwivedi said.
The volunteers ensured that help reached to each deserving person and kept an account of who was offered what and when they could not reach any needy person, they directly transferred cash to the grocery stores asking the owner to offer the person concerned whatever he required.
Despite these hectic activities, none of our group members contracted the infection as we took all precautions including masks, face shields, immunity booster tablets and so on, said the volunteer. "Yes, our families were quite worried about our safety as we ventured out daily but they did understand the need of it as we made them understand that there are people out there who require help urgently," he added.
Speaking to News18, Pooja Iyengar said that she had partnered with Sparsh in raising funds for the activities. We started off with making masks through 50-60 women from slum dwellers and gave them to BMC workers, Chief Minister helpline staff and those engaged in essential services. People were moved by our efforts and sent donations, and we also helped those who lost livelihood in lockdown, she said.
Locals also offered monetary help through social media campaigns, and various residential societies, doctors, companies, Sanchi corporation and others contacted us on their own and chipped in with help, she added.
Mita Wadhwa, a former telecom sector corporate executive, who turned to social service also took on the mantle of reaching out to the needy with ration and food packets. Wadhwa was in the frontline from day one, taking to field, collecting material and ensuring it reached the needy.
We took ration to Gurdwaras who offered us cooked food in return which was then taken to those in need, she said. We also distributed 'Kanya Bhojan' in Navratri and ration packets in Easter, Eid, Vaishakhi as well, she added.
Praising the administration for its unconditional support to welfare activities, Wadhwa said, "They help reached us not only from locals but also from those living in far off countries including US, Singapore, Switzerland, UAE and many more."
BMC and police personnel were always there at any time when we required to collect or distribute material or fetch footwear for the labourers, she added. Former BMC commissioner Vijay Datta always quietly supported all our endeavors. When we helped migrant labourers, we never had to pay for tents as all arrangements were made by the administration, Wadhwa said.
There were times when we did not have a vehicle to transport food, and policemen not only offered their vehicles but also came with us for distribution, she said, adding that the BMC and police also collected help from containment zones. "I wish to especially thank the women who could always find time from domestic chores to make food packets for the needy," said Wadhwa, terming it a collective effort amid the crisis.