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Local residents provide a model for community response in times of crisis

by Abhinandan Bannerjee from Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi

As Covid-19 grips New Delhi and social distancing and lockdown measures became the new norm, a small gated colony in South Delhi has decided to organise and fight the virus as a community. In the face of this unprecedented crisis, the residents of Chittaranjan Park have been quick to organise themselves and use every available means at their disposal to help the poor people who were dependant on the colony for their income and livelihoods.

Chittaranjan Park houses 15,000-18,000 residents spread across over 2500 plots divided into 19 residential blocks. Like many other colonies across New Delhi, Chittaranjan Park also has several plots which are currently under construction for redevelopment. When the Honourable Prime Minister announced an immediate nation-wide lockdown on 23 rd March 2020, approximately 600-800 migrant construction workers who were working at these sites were left stranded facing severe shortage of food and other essential items. In addition to these workers, there were maids, drivers, cooks and several other self-employed daily wagers like electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons etc. working in the colony; now facing severe hardships because of the lockdown. The residents of Chittaranjan Park immediately stepped in.

Having a large population of Bengali speaking residents, over the years several social and cultural organisations had come up within the colony to promote Bengali culture and language. In these times of crisis, these social and cultural organisations have diverted all their energy into doing relief work. The same networks which were earlier used by these organisations to raise funds for cultural events and programmes are now being used with great effect to raise money for buying dry ration, soaps, masks and sanitizers which are then distributed amongst those in need. The halls and rooms which were earlier used for theatre practice and dance classes, have been converted into makeshift warehouses for storing these essentials prior to their distribution. Reading rooms in the local library and prayer halls in the local temple have been converted into spacious workshops where a limited number of people are taking turns volunteering to pack ration kits while maintaining adequate social distancing. The local East Bengal Displaced Person Association, which hitherto assisted the residents in their day to day problems like gas connections and telephone bill payment, has deployed its members and volunteers to ensure that these ration packets are distributed to every under construction site in the neighbourhood, as well as anyone else in need. In addition to dry ration kits, soaps, sanitizers and masks are also being distributed. Today, these efforts have been successful in feeding hundreds of migrant workers stranded in the neighbourhood, as well as several other poor people staying in nearby areas but fully dependent on the colony for their livelihood.

Additionally, in other parts of the colony, the block wise Resident Welfare Associations have also stepped in to take care of any dependant migrant labourers in their vicinity. Detailed schedules have been prepared and each house in the block has taken it upon itself to provide cooked meals on a rotational basis to the labourers and their families around them. In addition to dry ration, milk and bread is also being made available to the families which have small children and elderly dependants. Doctors and medical professionals who reside in the colony have collaborated with these Resident Welfare Associations to spread awareness about sanitation measures and social distancing, while also providing emergency medical care free of cost.

Community kitchens have been set up in two different parts of the colony, supplied and operated almost exclusively by the residents. These community kitchens are preparing in excess of 350 cooked meals a day to be distributed among the workers and labourers in the colony who may need the same. Additionally, cooked meals are also being provided to the guards and sanitation workers who are servicing the colony.

The relief efforts by the residents are not restricted to their colony alone. The residents are also whole heartedly supporting the efforts of the Delhi Government. A large quantity of dry ration has been collected and donated to the local police station for distribution in the various night shelters run by the Delhi Government. The residents are also collaborating with the local gurudwara which is running a community kitchen feeding close to a 1000 people per day. Individual residents have also started weekly ration collection drives, where ration packets are being collected from each individual household while maintaining complete social distancing. These packets are then distributed in the nearby areas of Govindpuri, Bhumi Heen Camp, Nehru camp and Transit Camp through the local MLA’s office in Kalkaji Constituency. Various NGOs which are based in Chittaranjan Park are accepting donations to offer similar distribution of ration kits in Tughlaqabad and other areas.

With Delhi likely to remain under lockdown or face severe restrictions in the days to come, the efforts of this small community in South Delhi truly serves as a role model and guiding light for similar colonies across the city. In these times of unprecedented crisis, a consolidated community response, like the one showed by the residents of Chittaranjan Park, is perhaps the need of the hour across the city.


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