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The City of Joy Will Not Let Her Workers Starve.

by Anuradha Mukherjee in Kolkata

The lockdown has brought tremendous hardship to the migrants and daily wage workers that comprise over 40% of Kolkata’s workforce today. The spirit of the city has mobilised tremendous aid and relief from the government, NGOs, students, residents, universities, restaurants and the police. These individual contributions are humbling, but when seen collectively, they demonstrate the spirit of Kolkatans to stand by those in need:

The West Bengal government announced free ration to 7.5 crore people (Bengal has a population of 9.13 crore) for six months, a Rs 1,000 grant to workers in the unorganised sector and advance payment of two months’ social pension.  The local councillors are in charge of distributing rations to affected people living in their wards.

Kolkata Gives, a philanthropic platform comprising of individuals and corporates, was one of the first organisations that recognised the plight of the poor families affected by the Covid 19 lockdown.  Using its model of collaboration between donors and credible NGOs, the team launched Project 10K! to help 10,000 families in and around Kolkata.  The campaign asks for donations of Rs.3000 per family – an estimated amount to cover basic rations for a month and has managed to raise resources to serve more than 8000 families so far.  The relief is being rolled out on the ground in partnership with 26 NGOs covering red light areas and slums within Kolkata city and in the Sunderbans, districts in North and South Bengal such as Medinipur and North Dinajpur and Darjeeling and Kalimpong having provided food rations equivalent to 2.4 million meals.

We Care comprises of a group of Kolkatans who came together with the pledge that no one goes hungry in this time of crisis. Making appeals for donations in cash or kind through their Facebook page and mobilising support through individual networks, We Care is reaching out to pavement dwellers, migrant families and labourers across the city.  There are two categories of items that are being packaged and distributed – the first includes soap, muri, chirwa, sattu, biscuits and salt.  The other option is to provide rations that can be cooked including soap, muri, chirwa, rice, dal, oil and salt.  

Citizens including young people are extending support either individually, or through their immediate networks (such as Building Societies) to distribute hot meals, dry food, masks, juice etc. to communities in and around their neighbourhoods. 

Students and alumni associations of prominent educational institutions have come up with community kitchens in different parts of the city to feed daily wagers and homeless people during the lockdown.  Jadavpur University opened a community kitchen to feed at least 200 poor people daily, who are rendered jobless due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown.  The initiative was started by students with the support of teaching and non-teaching staff and the authorities of the university. The community kitchen is located at one corner of the vast campus area of the university.  In addition to the kichdi, students of the science departments are preparing hand sanitisers under the supervision of teachers to be distributed among the poor as well.  The students are mobilising funds through crowdfunding and the alumni have come forward to contribute to this initiative.

A community kitchen named ‘People’s Kitchen’, has been set up by a group calling themselves ‘Quarantined Student-Youth Network’. Young members of this network are working tirelessly in this kitchen to cook and distribute food to 200 homeless people living in Park Circus, College Street, Hedua, Ahmerst Street and Surya Sen Street.

Switch ON Foundation and Active Citizens Together for Sustainability (ACTS) have been running ‘Project Karuna’ in collaboration with Kolkata, Bidhannagar and Howrah Police to feed around 15,000 people daily.  Hot meals of khichdi are being cooked in five kitchens at Camac Street, Anandapur, Jadavpur, Park Circus and Strand Road by volunteers and being handed over to the police for distribution through the locals police stations.

Kolkata Police has introduced measures to help the poor as well as the city’s large population of senior citizens including a helpline dedicated to senior citizens and another for medical help.  An innovative effort that has received the city’s appreciation is by New Alipore police station.  The residents received WhatsApp messages with a list of local grocery shops and their phone numbers urging them to order goods directly which would then be collected by the police and delivered to their homes. The police also involved the local rickshaw pullers who had lost their income in the lockdown period to deliver goods in exchange for a small amount thus helping them in the process as well.

Several individuals and NGOs are mobilising funds through crowdfunding using Ketto, Guidestar, Fuel a Dream and other platforms to reach out to people from all across the world to support people in distress in various parts of the state.  Specific initiatives include Garden Reach Institute for Rehabilitation and Research is committed to providing the 250 families living in the Garden Reach Slums with enough food to see them through this crisis. They are also operating a helpline for those needing additional support, operating an ambulance service to allow people requiring urgent medical attention and safe passage to health providers.  A quick review of these crowdfunding initiatives reveal it is an uphill task to mobilise funds by relatively lesser known organisations.  People seem to be more comfortable giving to efforts led by those they know personally or those with established credentials.


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