Relief Campaign
Covid 19 Lockdown Relief Work in Chandigarh

THE sudden declaration of the lock down and the subsequent curfew left us all uncertain. The only certainty we could immediately imagine, was the hunger, hardship that the working people will have to face. Most of our work among the working class of Chandigarh is centred in the construction, contract and other unorganized segments. And with the abrupt lockdown in the last week of the month, all were bound to face the cash crunch, loss of salaries and work. Even without the Covid-19 crisis, this is a time when workers struggle to replenish stocks of food. Initially we contacted administrative officials to get volunteer passes. Soon we learnt that the administration does not need any volunteers, at least, from amongst us.

It was only the third day of the first phase of the lockdown, when I received the first distress call. This was a domestic worker. She narrated not her own woes but those of the whole mohalla she lives in, along with her two kids. “Comradeji we need to do something about it, lest we all die of hunger”. So here was the task for us – we would have to collect rations and maintain our own distribution line as the scale of the lockdown suggested that the administration would do only enough to keep the desperation and anger of workers from boiling over.

Some friends who were earlier together in the anti CAA- NRC movement and a some from university and media suggested to raise a crowd fund and plan for a dry food relief campaign. We initially took part in the efforts made by a local NGO for the same. Soon our PEC Mess Workers Union’s crowd funding campaign caught some momentum, and by the time we pooled a little above one lakh, we had lists of the needy ready with phone numbers and addresses, thanks to the recent effort of our trade union comrades Com. Eisha, Com. Jeevaraj and Com. Satish, in centralising and digitising the membership data of construction worker’s union. The dilemma was to decide who to prioritise, given that all are needy, whether we know them or not. We prioritised those who approached us over those whom we ourselves approached. A sizeable section of our own trade union members from construction workers, the rehri- farhi (street vendors)  union and the kachchi colony Dhanas, a working class cluster, had informed us about their conditions and the apathy of the administration they were facing.



Finally on 17th April, we had CPIML UT Committee’s first online meeting. We had two conditions to tackle, the immediate lockdown hunger and the surely following economic distress. While distributing ration kits we decided that we must simultaneously build pressure upon the administration to take up this task. Our hand, extended out for cooperation had already been rejected by the administration. They were clearly, keen, only, to work around with RSS and some BJP-connected NGOs and councillors.

Our efforts got an enthusiastic response from our local unit comrades especially in Dhanas, Hallomajra, Sector 2, Vikas Nagar, Maulijagran, Dadu Majra etc. Soon we realized that the crisis will not only last long, but also grow severe as we proceed into consecutive stages of the lockdown. So, we organized nearly 600 families into a “Mahamari - Mahamandi Roko Committees” (Stop Pandemic and Economic Depression committees) to mainly over the WhatsApp groups, distributed over six clusters of our work area. So far, we have been able to use these groups only for the coordination and reporting and disseminating information, around the ration distribution task and to organize some of the recent central protest calls in the indoor conditions, but in future we hope to activate the same groups for organizing our tasks around the trade union issues arising out of lockdown conditions.

With only one curfew pass, with only one vehicle and two persons allowed to travel, it was a challenge to reach the people who sought help. So far, we have been able to reach more than 600 families and counting. More than Rs. 7 lakhs was collected thorough crowd funding as well as by other contacts have been spent. Though we still have a little above a lakh in reserve to meet future needs, as they arise. Though, now the pressure, summarily, has shifted over to the migrant workers travel related issues, but we energetically look forward to the struggling days ahead. Many professors, journalists, advocates from the civil society contributed to this campaign not only monetarily but by taking pains to lead and coordinate this campaign. Our party committee, and many of our youth and trade union activists like Narinder Sidhu, Punit, Gagan, Usman, Razia, Pragya, Sudama, Anuj Pandey, Agin, Lalbahadur, to name a few, took exceptional active roles on the ground.

Distress Relief in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana

-- Uday Kiran

Since the lockdown announced on 23rd March, the attitude of the state govts and authorities has been irresponsible. They left the workers to their misery and at the mercy of empathy of civil society. Comrades from Andhra and Telangana worked in coordination with the central platform run by AICCTU and CPIML comrades, to reach out to the distressed workers and to provide them with support.

A group has been formed locally with leading comrades and district secretaries from AP and Telangana. The combined and coordinated efforts of comrades helped to find the contacts within their reach and to talk to the workers and make arrangements for them accordingly. Initially, government officials of Telangana would be informed of the workers’ needs through Twitter, and we would follow up with phone calls to Nodal officers and the government helpline numbers. As officials would often take too much time to attend and address the call, we tried other ways like taking help from voluntary organisations and individuals to reach out to stranded workers. We have also taken help of community kitchens formed in some areas particularly to help the people who are stuck up by the lockdown. Most of the cases we dealt with were referred to us by the central helpline group and other comrades from different states like UP, Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand. We also got other calls are from intra-state migrant workers who moved to Hyderabad and other places from the agency areas of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh.

More than 1200 workers from across the country stranded in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were reached and helped during this phase. Construction workers are supposed to have identification cards issued by labour welfare boards in AP and Telangana. Other migrant workers have no registration or identification at all. Even those entitled to cards did not get much help through the labour welfare boards.

Party comrades have also taken up the responsibility and provided vegetables and ration in few villages of East Godavari district of AP.



Relief Activists Attacked in Jadavpur, Kolkata

In the wake of the unplanned lockdown, as destitution and hunger began to spread, comrades in Kolkata undertook relief initiatives in all our areas of work. The  local party committee of Jadavpur area played an exemplary role in this regard.

The party office of Gangulypukur emerged as the centre during this entire period, progressive citizens and our party sympathisers pooled their contributions in cash and kind and relief coupons were distributed among those in dire need of food and assistance.

The message of distributing relief materials spread far and wide. Apart from the adjoining 4-5 municipal wards, our comrades also extended their helping hand to Kashmiri hawkers and others who lost their livelihood, even in some pockets beyond Jadavpur. Till date materials worth more than Rs 2.2 lakh have been distributed among 2,300 people.

The local TMC councillor couldn't tolerate this relief work. As more and more people started coming to the party office, the TMC councillor pressurised us to conduct relief through the local police station. Our comrades resisted this pressure and the relief campaign continued. On 12 May, a TMC goon assaulted Com. Babun Chatterjee, secretary of the party's Jadavpur Local Committee while he was on his way to party office.

Immediately, comrades assembled and went to the local PS, a FIR was filed on behalf of the district party committee, and a diary was made by the victim. Police was hesitant to take steps, and on the morrow, a militant protest demonstration was organised in front of the police station, defying lockdown norms. A delegation of other left parties also submitted a memorandum demanding arrest of the culprit  The Officer Incharge promised to take steps within three days. Comrades in other parts of Kolkata as well as Greater Kolkata region, organised prompt protests. Due to pressure from different quarters, police was forced to act, warned the culprit and extended necessary protection and cooperation to our party to carry on the relief work. It needs to be mentioned that the relief campaign and the protests have found considerable support among the common people in the area.

Liberation Archive