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Courage and hope despite problems in Delhi slums

New Delhi: Job losses have not deterred people from doing what they can to keep themselves and their communities safe from coronavirus. Members of the Community Management Committees (CMCs) and other forums created by Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) are also working with the people in their neighborhoods to help them and also gathering intelligence for sharing with the authorities.

Heera from Anand Vihar, who is a member of a CMC and is a Swaccha Grahi with the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC), said the poor had been impacted in many different ways. “Pregnant women are going to private clinics as they are scared of infections in government hospitals,” she said, “daily wage workers are at home. If they get food they eat, if not they drink water and sleep on an empty stomach.”She also said people with disabilities who were running small roadside tea shops were also waiting for the lockdown to be lifted.

Good deeds

CMC members have reported about a number of Samaritans who have helped people. Sunil Kumar, a member of the Male Forum from Madanpur Khadar, informed that around 33 persons from Bihar came to Delhi to attend a wedding but got stuck due to the sudden declaration of the lockdown. The host family kept them for a week but their rations ran out. The matter was reportedly brought to the notice of Sanjay Singh, SHO, Madanpur Khadar police station. “He facilitated the provision of cooked food for all community members and also arranged for the families to shift to a shelter home where they got accommodation and food free of cost,” said Sunil.

Another Male Forum member, Sunny, said ration shop managers were ensuring adequate social distance. In Block 18, the shopkeeper insisted that people maintain proper social distance and avoid crowding near or at the shop. Policemen and MLA Kuldeep Singh, personally ensured that all ration card holders received their share. “For those who had no ration cards, the MLA got a local grocery shop to provide packets with rice, flour, oil, pulses, spices, salt and biscuits,” said Sunny.

CMC members show the way

CMC members continue to be active even as they find the going tough. Savitri Devi, a resident of Mazdoor Kalyan Camp 1, said she was informed about safety measures to prevent Coronavirus infection by a member of the CMC. “We purchased Dettol soaps and I insist that the entire family washes hands six times a day,” she said. The CMC member also showed her a video which demonstrated safety measures. “I am now sharing this information and the video with my relatives and friends in Delhi and in my village,” she said.

Sanitation remains a priority and CMC members who continue to work hard in their areas. Lalita Devi, a CMC member from Mazdoor Kalyan Camp II, Okhla said as waste was not being collected by authorities, piles of waste were getting bigger and bigger. “A group of women decided to remove the piles and pack the waste into a gunny bag.  Once this was done, we called the Sanitary Inspector and requested him to get the waste collected. This was done, and since then we have decided to ensure that piles of waste are not collected and each of us ensures the lanes are clean,” she said.

Sanitation workers

Sanitation workers connected to our program said they were doing their best but a little support would be welcome. Jeetram, Sanitation Supervisor, said that people like him were continuing to work during the lockdown but with no buses, they were finding it very difficult to report on duty. “The risk of infection in public transport is high for us. There are no health insurance schemes made for us. If we contract infections who will look after us and our family? Are we not making our families vulnerable?”

Gulab, a sanitation worker from Mandawali, echoes the thought. “While there is no discrimination against us in the community, the fear of infection and the work we are doing prevents people from giving me tea or any food. This was not the case earlier. I don’t even get water to drink when I get tired or thirsty. So, if the government gave us clean water, it will be appreciated,” he said.

Ramesh Kumar, who also works as a sanitation worker, says public transport had been shut down so mobility was a problem.

However, some sanitation workers reported increased community support. “I find the community helping us as they understand our risks and challenges and help us manage the work by collecting waste at one point, not clogging the drains and keeping the lanes swept and clean,” he said.

More sanitation workers, Anil, Vivek and Manoj, said that while community support was in place, they expected more from the government. “We must get insurance cover as this is a contagious disease and any infection will add to our vulnerability. We also need rations and dry food to support our families. The government is giving us the salary on time, but we urge them to plan for our safety in this time of disaster,” said one.