-By Ruchira Gupta
Sobbing video clips, desperate messages and panic calls from red-light areas, Rohingya refugee camps, caste ghettoes of street performers, are the daily wake up feeds on my inbox these days. Food, oxygen, a bed in a hospital, money for burial, and sometimes a request for a computer to be able to study, are what the most excluded women and children ask for, as the second wave of COVID-19 hits India.
While middle class India is struggling for survival, the excluded are simply dying. Most houses have had a death, many are fever ridden. Daily wage earners have lost their livelihood and children have lost parents. The government has not announced a single program intervention or budget allocation for the most vulnerable and excluded.
I work in red-light areas, refugee camps and migrant slums; I try to do the best I can. My days begin and end with answering the desperate calls, asking friends for donation, buying food from vendors and making sure trucks of supplies don’t get stolen or lost.
A salt truck from Kutch disappeared at the Delhi border some time ago. The police could not trace it. Either the driver and the police had divided the money from the salt, or India’s systems are truly collapsing.
More recently, another truck of food and medical supplies in Delhi was hijacked or diverted by the local administration to a different venue from where I had sent it. I got a message from a youngster who works with my NGO, saying that the District Magistrate had asked the truck to go to the neighbouring lane, where she was working with the community.
The struggle for daily meal for the most vulnerable in these times is unimaginable. Since April 2020, when I launched the #1MillionMeals food drive under my NGO Apne Aap, I have been able to distribute ration worth more than millions of meals to more than 50,000 vulnerable women and children during the COVID-19 crisis in India.
Now that the second wave of the pandemic is hitting India with all its might, I know that at least six million children in India are at the verge of starvation. They may not ever go back to school. They have lost a parent or a parent has lost a job due to the pandemic, and they will have to enter the work force if they survive this period. Between giving them ration kits, text books, and online classes, I am hoping to keep them well fed and still on the path of education – at least till the situation gets better. If I give up, these girls will not finish school, and many thousands of others will not get food.
The people of India had believed in their leaders, and that trust has been betrayed too many times already. They continue to bear hardships to prevent the virus from spreading, while the central government does close to nothing to help.
Today, as we see bodies piled up outside crematoriums, we know we cannot give up. And that is why 1MillionMeals.org persists. In the name of the friends and families we have lost, we will continue. Join our efforts at 1millionmeals.org