They say, every rule has an exception. Well, here is ours. Though we endeavour to bring you variety and hence do not interview or feature the same person twice, here we are – bringing you another great initiative by Madhuram Aparajita and her team.
Last year, she was a clear favourite with the jury and won our Eyra Nurturer 2020 award. Now she fights for a great cause – migrant workers.
In today’s scenario, I think all of our hearts cry for the stranded migrant workers across the country. We want to help, but feel helpless in the face of restrictions and lockdowns. But not her team. They decided to help – through mobile phones!
Plight of the migrant workers
One of the major concerns our country is facing right now is sending migrant workers back to their homes. But this is not as easy as it sounds. These workers are unable to sustain a living in the cities they have migrated to and furthermore are away from their families. But they are facing a tremendous amount of struggle in going to their own hometowns. We hear almost every day how a desperate father carried his disabled child for 40 days, how people walked for 150 kilometers for want of a vehicle, how they were taken advantage of in the process and so on. These struggles are real. People are dying. Worse still, a testimony to our inhuman souls, is the fact that they are being cheated by truck drivers and private vehicle drivers alike who are offering a lift at a cost and then abandoning them in the middle of nowhere to survive or to die.
But the silver lining, there are a lot of empathetic people and humanitarians who have come forward to assist the government in providing relief to the stranded migrant workers, Evara being one of them.
What EVARA does
Evara is an informal organization of volunteers headed by Lalit Kumar – an online community builder, writer and founder of Kavita Kosh. Around mid May, the group simultaneously started two projects – first, to raise funds for the cause and second, to help the migrant workers reach home safely. Ten volunteers immediately agreed to help with the tracking of these migrants.
With the help of a Lucknow based NGO, Uddeshya Foundation, they track the travelling migrants and obtain their contact details. They contact each batch of workers and provide all the emergency support required over calls. Once they make contact with the batch of migrants, they get in touch with them every 10-12 hours until the workers reach their respective cities and villages.
In the first 10 days of volunteering, this group has managed to successfully help over 5000 stranded migrant workers reach home safely.
The team also raises funds privately to help provide emergency supplies like sanitary kits, food, electral powder to beat the heat, health checkups, mobile recharge, vehicular arrangements, accommodation-related arrangements, etc. We spoke to Madhuram, whose team is also worried about fodder for cows and says that Advocate Anuj Singh from the Uddeshya Foundation is trying to arrange that as well.
One of the challenges they have to overcome is the language/dialect barrier. For this, the volunteers have identified themselves based on the languages they can speak, and allocate calls accordingly.
But the biggest challenge they face, Madhuram says, is to convince the migrant workers to quarantine themselves after reaching home. Not only is this an emotional challenge, but the go-ahead after the health checkup causes confusion and irritation in being treated as patients. The team patiently handles and convinces these workers, sometimes taking as much as an hour to talk to them.
‘You should hear the trials and tribulations faced by a group going from Noida to Bihar. A 52 year old man from a group, including his uncle with disabilities, recounted the entire story to me on the phone, of how they were exploited on their way. Unfortunately, we can only do so much remotely, though we keep in touch regularly to ensure their safety and comfort, if possible,’ recounts Madhuram.
Another case she told us of was a mere teenager in standard 12, who was removed from his hostel while on lockdown and was left at the mercy of some bullies. He sent an SOS, following which, the team not only sent ration and supplies to him, but arranged an emergency pass to take him back to his home in Samastipur.
Currently, they are focusing on Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Durgapur and Bodh Gaya. More importantly, they are available 24 hours a day to help migrants.
A boon for sure, especially the ones who are abandoned in the middle of nowhere, while their drivers robbed them and fled into the night. There was one such case where the team guided them to the nearest police station and arranged for them to be taken care of.
How it all started
Evara gives the credit of the entire idea of tracking down the migrant workers throughout their journey to a corporate lawyer, Shubham Aparajita, who happens to be the sister of Madhuram (good deeds also run in the family for sure!). They then immediately formed a group of volunteers to execute their plan. Interestingly, this group consists of lawyers, journalists and social activists, who are clearly discrediting their infamy completely!
Team members who have played an essential role in the execution of this entire process include – Animesh Mukharjee (Journalist), Sharda Suman (Social Activist), Ashfaq Ahmed (Social Activist), Gaurav Adeeb (Educationist & Theatre Artist), Siddhartha Nahar (Lawyer), Shashii Singh (Hindi Scholar), Prem Diwakar (Engineer) and Madhuram Aparajita (Lawyer).
The team has together decided to use the excess funds they receive into building back the jhuggis for the survivors of Cyclone Amphan!
A hearty and well-deserved applause for the team!
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*