Helping migrant labour in Odisha cope with the COVID-19 crises
It was on April 3, 2020, that Biswamabara Sahu, a volunteer working with Research Academy for Rural Enrichment (RARE), visited one of the brick-making sites in Palas village, Ulunda block, Subarnapur district, Odisha. Biswambara is a trained counsellor and a member of the team constituted jointly by the district administration, ActionAid Association (AAA) and RARE to provide necessary counselling support to the migrant workers while also monitoring the facilities announced for them.
During his visit, Biswambara found two labourers engaged in making bricks. “I interacted with these labourers and tried to understand their problems. I also learnt that they were not aware of the support announced by the Government for migrant labourers, and were still staying at their worksites,” says Biswambara. The matter was brought to the notice of the Collector and District Magistrate, Subarnapur, following which the district administration intervened through the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) and the Block Development Officer (BDO). It was thereafter decided to shift them to a school building and the Sarpanch was instructed to provide food to their families.
Bikash Bisi, the Sarpanch of Bishipada Gram Panchayat, shares how upon getting information about this matter from the BDO, he visited the worksite got the work stopped during the lockdown period. “We, as a team, brought these workers to the school building which was deemed to be a safer place than the worksite. Together with the voluntary organizations in the Gram Panchayat, we provided them hot cooked meals twice a day. This intervention also had an impact in the nearby villages; four other migrant labourers were identified in the neighboring villages and shifted to the school building,” shares Bikash Bisi.
Narrating their experiences, the workers and their families share how while maintaining social distancing, they are now interacting and getting along well with each other. Each family has been allocated a separate room in the school. They are using the toilets and tube-well of the school communally, but do not make contact with each other.
Among the people staying in this building is also a pregnant woman. She feels safe and comfortable here and is being looked after by the Anganwadi and ASHA worker of Palas village. A four-year-old further adds that he was not able to play comfortably at his parents’ worksite and that he is happy now since he can play in the school premises.
This is not a stand-alone case. ActionAid Association, along with RARE and with support from the district administration, has reached out to more than 1,900 workers residing in 192 camps belonging to the states of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand. In times of such crises, most of the labourers are deprived of safe accommodation and food. Through this collective initiative, the district administration has responded to such issues in a swift manner and ActionAid Association is glad to be a part of this humanitarian response.
India has been under lockdown since March 24, 2020, to break the spread of COVID-19 infection. ActionAid Association has been rigorously responding to the crisis across the states that it is working in, reaching out to the most vulnerable communities, focusing on the households dependent on informal economy. The teams at the level of states have been working with the State Governments and local administration to spread awareness among marginalized communities on the need to maintain lockdown and hygiene practices to stop the spread of the disease. Together with its allies and working with the local administration, ActionAid Association also helped counsel the migrant workers returning to their villages, on the need to maintain quarantine, besides helping set up community-based quarantine facilities. ActionAid Association has also been providing immediate supplies of dry ration, cooked food and sanitation material to those most marginalized. It has also been providing grounded inputs from the perspective of workers and vulnerable communities to the Union and State Governments’ policy and programme processes.