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Community education and action in the time of coronavirus: CMC members show the way in Jaipur

Jaipur: They may be down, but they are not out. Their social profile will not make heads turn – domestic workers, ragpickers, transgenders and daily-wagers – but their determination to make a difference will. In a city locked down by coronavirus, they are continuing to do what they did – educating community members about sanitation, keeping their areas clean, helping them to be safe from coronavirus infection.

Pooja, a contract worker with the Jaipur Nagar Nigam, lives in Valmiki Colony. She is one of few who has the right to move around in the city to keep it clean. Apart from cleaning the area assigned to her, she also sweeps areas in her neighbourhood. She is appreciative of the efforts that have been made for her and other workers. “Government has installed water-campers, soaps and sanitizers at every 500-600 meters for handwashing. We have also been given gloves, masks and wearing them is mandatory. After my morning shift from 7 to 12 pm I return home, bathe and then complete my chores.” She Pooja knows more about cleanliness than most people, she advises her neighbourhood residents how hygiene practices like handwashing and social distancing keeps coronavirus away.

However, CMC members are playing an active role in their communities. Saroj, a sanitation worker from Valmiki Colony works for the railway office. She has learned how to stitch masks and is stitching them for free for workers. “This is my contribution.  I request them to provide cloth but my labour is free,” she says. Another CMC member, Rosy, said that most of her community members were ragpickers and waste collectors. “Their work gets them dirty. Feeding children with dirty hands, touching one’s own face, mouth and eyes, can lead to infection, so I decided to educate the community on the risks. I told that them even if they wash their hands with an inexpensive soap, it reduces the risk of infection.” Lali Devi has kept a bucket and soap outside her door. “Anyone who has to enter will first wash their hands, I insist,” she says.

Choti Begum got a borewell in her locality, Sundar Nagar, repaired by taking it up with the water supply department. “How could we wash our hands if we didn’t have water?” she says. Meanwhile, Sunita, from Balmiki Basti got four clogged sewer chambers cleaned up. “We made regular calls and took support of the sanitary inspector to get it desilted. We are grateful that officers are listening to our concerns and extending support,” she said.

Many of them are facing a drop in their incomes. Lali Devi, a domestic worker, said both she and her husband, a desludging worker, were without work. “I don’t even know if I will get paid for this leave. We get two meals a day but this is not sufficient for our family of six persons,” she said. Transgenders like Pooja, who were dependent on alms, are facing hunger, “The impact on transgender persons is much more than others. We collected alms in trains, but for the last 10 days all work has stopped,” she said. But she is doing her bit in these difficult times. “And yes, we are maintaining social distance and washing our hands regularly like all of you,” she said.

Several CMC members have reported that community interest in handwashing and other practices is not so keen as people tell them that their primary needs such as food are not being met. “They told me: Madam, our stomachs are empty, washing hands will not solve this problem.”

Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) currently works in Jaipur in 18 settlements and 14 wards.  CFAR works strategically with the communities by creating a Community Management Committee (CMCs) whose members, mostly women, are an empowered lot who bring about profound social change in their midst. In Jaipur, 18 CMCs with 151 members and 34 Single Window Forum Members have been working with a large number of people and helping them connect to their entitlements while getting them to take responsibility. CFAR works with urban poor communities with special focus on gender and social inclusion for marginalised and excluded groups, transgenders, persons with disability, elderly, women and adolescents, among others.