Published: 03rd April 2020
How JNU student body BAPSA has been working to provide food, aid for stranded migrant workers
Since many had already gone home, BAPSA decided that the members could help out in their individual capacities in their own hometowns
When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown as a preventive measure to combat the fast spreading COVID-19 virus, Om Prakash Mahato knew that something was very wrong with the decision. Om is the President of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA) in JNU and he decided right then that the Association would have to do something to help those who would be left in distress because of the lockdown.
"As soon as the lockdown was announced, we knew who this would impact the most - it would be the marginalised, the people who are right at the bottom of society. No plans were announced for them, no relief efforts and it was announced at 8 pm in the night and it all happened so quickly," Om recalls. Om wanted to immediately do something to help but at that point of time, all the members of BAPSA had already made their way home. So there were no members left on campus, so Om decided to hold a meeting over the phone with the rest of the members. He decided that no matter where they are the BAPSA members could still make a difference, so they decided that the members could help out in their individual capacities, help out people located around them.
"We decided to write a concept note and share it with all the members of the BAPSA. We decided to start fundraising. We created a poster and distributed it among all the members who distributed it to others. The money we would raise would be distributed to members based in different cities, who could buy raw materials with it and distribute it among those in need," he explained. Within four days, the team collected about 2 lakh rupees, "Sumeet Samos, who is a rapper and an activist based in Orissa informed us that many migrant workers and daily wage earners were living near his hometown. So we sent some of the money to him, so he could buy materials and distribute it," Om said. The materials included rice, dal, atta, oil, pulses, salt and spices.
Members in Meerut, Azamgarh also distributed the materials among the less-privileged near their hometowns, "My father is also a migrant worker in Assam, so I asked him if there was anything that people needed there. We managed to get them supplies, in the Southern part of Assam there are a lot of Muslim communities in need, so we managed to get them supplies too," the PhD student said.
But it wasn't just the BAPSA members that Om reached out to. The Association has ties with other Ambedkarite groups in other universities as well, so they reached out to Ambedkar Students Association in Puducherry and Hyderabad Central Universities as well. "We also got in touch with the Jharkhand Tribal Students Association and asked them if they needed any help. There are tribal workers in Bihar too where I come from. We traced about 50 families, they are from some of the most backward communities in the country. They were suffering without food and we managed to get them some food," Om told us.
The students have also run into some trouble whilst distributing though. While some have been stopped by the cops, some have not been granted permission. Jitendra Suna, who was the Presidential candidate for the JNU Students' Union was unable to get permission to distribute the food, "He went to the police station and applied for permission but the police refused to give him permission. So now he doesn't know what to do," he said. But otherwise the students are not having that much trouble with distributing food.
However, even though the team was able to raise funds initially, the funds have slowed down now even though the needs are still increasing. Om says he hopes to share posters and spread the word to keep up the work that they are doing.
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