24th June 2020
The District Collector of Ranchi agreed to meet with us today and we believed that getting the view of the administration on this would be very helpful for our research. They were the ones behind the show, trying to manage the crisis the best they can. DC Mahimapat Rai welcomed us into the room with a smile and soon we kicked off the conversation. He said that during the crisis, they were asked by the Chief Minister to give special attention to the migrants and ensure that they are taken care of. In Ranchi district the DC said he looked at the problem in two steps, the first was to provide immediate relief to them as they had reached the district after a lot of struggle and strife and the second would be to ultimately find and create long term livelihood opportunities for them. He added “the leadership provided has been commendable. Our CM lead from the front. Everyone was given a mandate; bring the migrants home safely and help them in the long term.” He believed that the more foresight leaders showed, the better their regions performed and this according to him was the reason Jharkhand and Ranchi were not struggling as much as some other states.
Speaking to the administration helped us get a better understanding of the crisis, especially in the district of Ranchi. The administration created a “tatpar helpline” specially for migrants; they could call on the helpline and within an hour they would be picked up and taken to a relief camp in Ranchi from where transport would be arranged for them to go to their respective states, districts or villages.
In fact the Ranchi administration claims that because of how well they were managing the crisis, truck drivers and other informal transportation services that the migrants used to return to their homes actually would drop them in the Ranchi district as this ensured they would reach home safely. They were kept in Khelgaon for a day from where they would be sent to their respective villages. 86% of the migrants left within a day.
The administration added that many of these things were made possible because of efforts from civil society organisations and the catholic church that set up shelter homes in fourteen locations across the district.
26th June 2020
Few days before the lockdown the DC of Ranchi district called an urgent meeting with different stakeholders—NGOs, Professionals, Religious Institutions. He was anticipating a serious social, economic and law and order situation arising from the Covid-19 crisis. He promised a rough estimated budget of 67 lakhs to undertake various relief measures over three months that he was confident to raise from CSR. Then suddenly CSR rules were changed by the central government and all the money went into PM Relief fund. “That was the biggest blow to the availability of resources in an unprecedented crisis like this”, shared Bishop Theodore, who was leading the efforts of the Catholic institution in Ranchi.
The DC came back expressing his inability to provide funds. At this point, Bishop Theodore wrote to all possible individuals and institutions around the world who he believed could provide financial support based on his goodwill and need of the hour. And as he hoped, many responded. Some of his friends wanted to contribute bigger funds from abroad, but couldn’t because of restrictive foreign fund regulation. He also dug into his catholic institutional corpus and managed to collectively raise close to Rs. 40 Lakhs. It was short of their estimated budget, but enough to kickstart the relief work.
As DC had preempted, lockdown soon resulted in a social disorder. Migrant labourers started arriving in large numbers from various states. Ranchi was critical because it served as a destination and stopover for passing migrants. However, everybody had to be provided testing, shelter, quarantine and essentials.
They set up 14-17 shelter homes in Ranchi district. Each shelter home had the capacity to accommodate people ranging from 70-200, but on many occasions more than 500 people landed in one shelter home. Consequently, social distancing was not adhered to, basic hygiene and amenities were compromised. According to Bishop—if a strong force of over 1000 volunteers hadn’t worked relentlessly without thinking of the time of the day or their own well-being, we would be facing a much severe health crisis today.
This crisis has impacted women more because women play a pivotal role in a tribal society. Men provide—but women not only provide, they also nurture and sustain. The unemployment engendered by the crisis has impacted the self-esteem of the men. “This is the first time in my life I have been reduced to depend on others to support my family”, rued a migrant who had walked many kms with his family to return to his native state. Bishop’s team found them on the road struggling with hunger and fatigue. They were brought to one of the shelter homes and given immediate treatment.
The situation will lead men to take refuge in local liquor ‘Hadia’ out of depression and self-pity, and women will have to find other resources to support the family. Interestingly, women are involved in making hadia and selling it. It is a source of substantial income for them.
It takes a whole generation for a family to escape the drudgery of poverty. If the parents are wise enough to invest in the education of their children despite all odds, then children are in a better position to find better jobs or livelihood options to improve their economic condition. If that doesn’t happen, then the vicious cycle keeps playing itself in a loop. Sons leave studies to take on their father’s job away from the family. Early marriage and lots of children add to financial woes. And when a crisis strikes that shake the edge they were already tittering on, they sink further into a hole.
According to Bishop—paranoia created by the mainstream media and social
media, and irresponsible policies of the central government have made the matter worse. We humans thrive and prosper through physical social engagement. This core value of human civilisation has been impacted and that is most worrisome. Nobody knows where this will lead us.
The right wing groups have accused Bishop of misusing the situation to convert innocent tribals into Christians to which he nonchalantly remarks, “Where were all these people when we were working day and night without bothering about our health. We would’ve loved to work shoulder to shoulder with them. We needed more resources, funds and more hands to contribute. Me and my team have worked for humanity irrespective of their religion.”