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#2: Growing vulnerabilities, lockdown and building solidarities

By March 23, 2020December 23rd, 2023No Comments

Locating the Together We Can campaign within current developments

The Increasing Crisis

With a rapid rise in reported COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra — 74 till Sunday morning (19 of which are in Mumbai) and a lockdown imposed in all urban areas of Maharashtra from midnight of 21 March 2020, Mumbai and its neighbouring cities are facing an unprecedented challenge.

The Greater Mumbai region, known for its economic and social resilience, saw lakhs of individuals — mostly those working in the informal sector — leave the city in a frenzy on 20 and 21 March night. Although panic about the virus and lack of job prospects in this environment were rising, the announcement on lockdown spurred the rapid migration, with workers seeing job loss and wage cut prospect worries getting increasingly validated.

Our Efforts in Brief

Earlier this week, we started experiencing first-hand how people we work with in communities across Greater Mumbai were growing more vulnerable with a reduction in the work available on a daily basis. Through a rapid assessment conducted on 18 and 19 March in 20+ settlements we were able to gauge people’s concerns — read more about this in our previous blog — and thus our campaign Together We Can (for emergency relief to most vulnerable households) was launched to draw in people’s support towards relief efforts.

The campaign is reaching out to households of those who are forced to beg for a living, those working as home-based workers, carpenters, rag pickers/waste recyclers, carpenters, domestic workers, furniture makers, in malls as salespersons, housekeeping staff; those working in small hotels as waiters, cooks; delivery executives, tailors, shop helpers, etc.

As we began distribution efforts on 20 and 21 March, we also surveyed 400+ households and families in need. Our tweet below reflects how many families we have surveyed so far, and how many we have been able to reach out to with food supplies, thanks to the outpouring of people’s support! Our distribution efforts have been among the homeless in Kurla, Sion, Dadar, Matunga, Bandra and Jogeshwari. And in slum settlements in Navi Mumbai and Panvel.

An update on our current outreach by end of day 25 March: Currently we have reached out to 940 households (4,700+ individuals), also reaching identified vulnerable families in slum settlements in Malvani, Mankhurd, Vashi Naka and Navi Mumbai.

The challenges we wrote about three days ago persist among vulnerable groups, especially the homeless and those families who do not have a constant source of income. It is these groups for whom ‘going back’ to their village is not even an option. This trying period is harshest for those who were already economically disadvantaged.

Two days ago, a few persons tested positive for COVID-19 from a slum in Mulund. Many residents of other slums have reported that they aren’t even being allowed to come close to buildings they once worked in.

In our distribution efforts in Jogeshwari, we were unable to trace a family earlier marked for support. Later, in the day when the family reached out to us again, we queried on why they were not available at the time of distribution. The woman of the household mentioned that they had all gone to collect water, as the settlement does not have a water connection. ‘While the need for food is high, water is indispensable’, she said.

While our relief efforts are offering temporary respite, the majority are far from being protected from multiple vulnerabilites (lack of access to water, hunger, increasing poverty, sickness) in the longer run. Given the estimate on the longevity of this crisis, the state of the urban poor remains an ongoing worry.

In terms of the distribution of relief, with the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Vashi being closed on a few days this week, few ‘mathadi workers’ available to carry out head-load work and few packers, packaging and loading grain has been slow. Additionally, with only personnel engaged in provision of essential services allowed to travel by local trains in Mumbai from 23 March the transportation of vegetables from farms in the region may be slower. However, we are committed to reaching out to communities as soon as possible to further this work, and with adequate safety and protection measures.

Positive Measures taken by Government of Maharashtra

There have been positive measures taken over the last few days by the Government of Maharashtra. The government has directed that ration shops be provisioned for three months with supplies of onions and potatoes. Mumbai High Court has directed that civic bodies halt evictions. Additionally, the Commissioner of Labour, Mahendra Kalyankar, issued a circular requesting employers of public/private sector establishments not to terminate employees, particularly casual or contractual, from their jobs or reduce their wages.

We welcome these developments and are advocating for stronger measures towards daily-wage and informal workers’ welfare, especially in these trying times. The crisis we are dealing with needs to be tackled through multi-stakeholder collaboration, and we hope that the efforts of people and networks are able to usher positive developments in this regard.

Coming Together, Remotely

Various civil society organisations have begun coming together in an attempt to organize relief in areas they work in and many more groups are doing what they can to ensure the government is responsive to the needs of its citizens. Many of these are ongoing efforts that are still shaping up.

The critical nature of the situation calls for urgent protection of the city’s vast urban poor population. While it is important to practise physical distancing at this time, it is equally important not to socially distance one another from finding solutions and approaches to dire urban vulnerabities.

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