Every day since the past one year, we sit down in front of our televisions, scroll through social media and surf on the web only to come across various aspects of how the Covid-19 pandemic has turned our worlds upside down. We have suffered a tragic mishap, both economically and socially. At a time like this, I almost came to the conclusion that death doesn’t discriminate but then I saw the news revolving around the extreme conditions faced by migrant workers, their children, women in prostitution and other such socially excluded communities. So now when I think about it, there’s just one question that pops up in my mind: What can I do to help?
24th March 2020 was the day when our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown in the wake of the Corona Virus outbreak in our country. This lockdown was then extended thrice up until 31st May, after which the lockdown restrictions were uplifted in a phased manner. The lockdown was aimed at reducing the spread and safeguarding the citizen’s health. Nonetheless, it led to a chain of negative impacts. As a result of the lockdown, several daily wage workers had to migrate back to their villages since they lost their livelihoods and couldn’t even afford the basic necessities. These people cycled and even walked for thousands of kilometers in order to reach their villages where they would at least have a shelter, food and water to survive. The government did announce strategies to help these people, but like any other initiative aimed at helping the poor, it didn’t reach all of them. Everyday we heard of such heartbreaking events where these people lost their lives on the way back home due to the scorching heat, thirst and hunger. Adding to the misery, imagine being a woman who is forced to walk for days to reach home in order to ensure the survival of her child and herself, who then starts menstruating on the way. As someone who cannot afford food or water, you definitely would not have access to sanitary pads. No woman should ever have to go through this state of despondence and dreadfulness. I remember this one instance from around this time last year where my friend told me about how she went out one day with her dad to buy some groceries and while they were back on their way home, they came across this woman in ragged clothes, skinny, malnourished and carrying her child in her arms. When her dad asked her if she was alright and offered her some money, she refused to take it and asked for food instead. She said that since all shops in the neighborhood were closed and she didn’t have any money, she hasn’t had any food to feed herself or her kid in the past many days. This woman was one of the many vulnerable women out there who were in a wretched state, unable to earn a means of survival for themselves or their children.
The only community I can think of as more vulnerable than these women are the women from red light areas. Prostituted women, apart from being destitute, also suffer from society’s stigma. As a result, the lockdown was even more harsh to these women. These women mostly do not have any documents which makes them ineligible for the government provided food rationing and housing, they have no “official employer” looking after them and most importantly, they are at high risk of infection due to the nature of their jobs. Oppressed by the prevailing conditions, they are trapped in tiny rooms with their children with no food, water, medicines or even hygiene products.
While several organisations were working towards providing oxygen and beds to the needy, Apne Aap Women Worldwide through its 1 Million Meals initiative reached the women and children from the most vulnerable and excluded communities of the society and provided them with food kits, essential medicines, sanitary pads along with vaccination and hospital support. The initiative began on 27th March, 2020 and since then has served weekly ration, hygiene packs of mask, soap, basic medicines and sanitary pads to adult women and their children in the red-light areas of Bihar, Kolkata and Delhi in order to ensure basic survival.
I believe that this is the time to make sure that the word ‘Fraternity’ is not merely a fancy keyword in our preamble. Instead, it instills in us a feeling of togetherness that makes us come forward to help the vulnerable people of our community, without the ifs and buts of who they are, what they do or where they come from.
Stand by the last girl and join the efforts of 1 Million Meals.