We are a bunch of 20 somethings; a dash of 30s and 40s as well; our life has begun to revolve around survey-cum-relief support calls. Some of us have been consumed by it. Our sleep cycles have gone awry. We don’t know what day of the week it is. And where do I even start with the weight of shared trauma?
Before delving deep into my story let me give you all some context.
I work at Indus Action. We work with state governments in the implementation of legislated rights. For the past two months, we have been trying to understand the status of the people we support in accessing education and food security. We found that people are running short of food; losing out on jobs and opportunities, and most importantly access to their fundamental rights. In a nutshell, a pretty serious crisis. You must have seen it on TV(or not!)
The new thread of our work has summoned energies and attention from the whole team like never before. Our working days have become long. We can’t go physically closer to people we used to work with. We, therefore, started to leverage technology and reached out to them through phone calls; we had their phone numbers and it constituted a large database. To tap into this large database, we also had to mobilize volunteers to build a warehouse of sorts. After we onboarded volunteers, in the month of April, we designed a questionnaire; and quickly built a Survey tool and platform from scratch.
With a sizable group of volunteers, we got down to calling all of the people on our database and the ones shared with us from different partners. We quickly learned about potential livelihood losses, availability of food, medicines, and about other struggles to the daily lives of people. People were facing a very difficult time.
Listening attentively to people sharing their pain, hunger stories, infant’s need for milk, inability to travel home, no money, etc was taxing. For most of us, absorbing the burden of such stories and pain was a first in our lifetime. A certain law officer called recounting their stories as “doom prophecies”. I hope life will give him wisdom. Well, I am digressing. The point I am trying to make is that a lot of us have valiantly fought our demons, difficult emotions, trauma, and pain for our fellow citizens and we continue to persevere.
We persevered sincerely to act as a bridge between ‘people’ on-ground and ‘people’ with decision-making powers such as bureaucrats, elected representatives, and relief organizers. We made phone calls, tagged them on twitter, wrote letters, etc. Many responded and showed a big heart too. I fondly recall one such instance: one of our volunteers was told by one of the people in Uttar Pradesh, whom she called, that his family was struggling for food in Rohtas district in Bihar. The volunteer went out of his way to escalate the issue to the District Collector of Rohtas on Twitter. As a result, 14 people in the district were supported because of the relentless efforts of the young volunteer and a responsive District Collector.
In Picture: Volunteer-led Rapid Response Campaign on Twitter
Our volunteers were thanked on many occasions by people through phone calls and videos. Every time, we felt a deep sense of pride and happiness in these little contributions.
The juggernaut continues
We haven’t stopped yet. We, along with the volunteers, still call people every day, notwithstanding our daily work and deliverables. We push ourselves for that extra effort daily.
We are now also making calls to support a few state governments in identifying people who want to board a train home( read: Shramik Express); who haven’t got their entitled nutritional supplement from anganwadis; and, for a lot of other issues faced by people amid these uncertain times.
On the basis of constantly ‘living in touch’ with people, we regularly brainstorm and design policy memos, fight and discuss what can be best for the people, and rally around the ideas.
Looking back, I have been amazed at the tenacity shown by all of us. In the midst of emotionally charged moments, we have planned, strategized, and acted. At times, we have been angry at the apathy shown to half of our fellow citizens. However, I take a lot of pride in the way we have channelized our pain and anger. The fruits of our labour have been sweet in some cases. I recall one such instance: in North Delhi, we had requests for ration for close to 50 people. It was one of those days when mobilizing support was difficult courtesy the total lockdown.
I distinctly remember, on a Sunday morning, we reached out to Goonj. They were ready to support. However, we had one more challenge – there was no transportation to route the ration kits to Jahangirpuri in North Delhi. Among our multiple contacts, one contact from the Delhi government arranged a lorry from Central Delhi to carry the kits from South to North Delhi. It was a welcome sigh of relief!
Does all this sound hagiographical? Yes, I am aware. Don’t get me wrong. We have made super dumb mistakes too, along our way. I mean some can’t even be discussed here at the risk of collective embarrassment! Running and administering surveys mean – data inputs, data analysis, quality checks, and solutions/process designs. Such processes are prone to errors.
Strategically, we have had to take tough decisions on numerous occasions. One such scenario occurred when we had to take a hard call on prioritizing ration support to areas with relatively larger numerical demands over demands from a different corner of the city with fewer people. But, what shines through amidst this precarity is passion. In my short life-span of working with people and groups, I have never witnessed this level of collective passion in a bunch of people.
It is like a sports team. A colleague/friend correctly termed this passion as the defining core of our organization.
Of course, this observation comes from the relative privilege of being at home. Yes, we register that. Yet, that shouldn’t stop us from acknowledging the challenges of people who give a significant part of their lives to make a positive impact on society. We, along with our volunteers, have had to struggle through a lot of difficult emotions, tough situations, and seemingly dead-ends to create better experiences for people affected by the lockdown, and the pandemic.
We understand that uncertainty, tougher challenges, and assignments await us. However juvenile it may seem- “A se Action” is always a good starting slogan.
*With gratitude to Killer Mike (Run the Jewels) and Hannah Gadsby