COVID-19: Odisha’s Subarnapur sets example by treating stranded migrants with dignity

The district administration, along with non-profits is helping provide food and essentials to migrants from other districts and states

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Thursday 16 April 2020
Workers from Jharkhand receiving food packets in Sajguri of Birmaharajpur block of Subarnapur district, Odisha. Photo: Priya Ranjan Sahu

The administration of Subarnapur district in western Odisha has set an example for others to follow by treating migrants stranded during the ongoing lockdown due to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with dignity.

The administration has reached out to 1,815 migrant workers stuck in the district since the lockdown was announced. The migrants — 1,096 men, 396 women and 325 children — have been approached with the help of volunteers of non-profit RARE.

They are from states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Rajasthan. Many of the migrants are also from different districts of Odisha.

The migrants have been kept in 180 camps where they have been provided with food as well as other daily items. These include bathing soaps, detergent powder and hair oil, tooth brush and paste and mosquito coils to make the workers feel comfortable and at home.

One particular instance illustrates the administration’s efforts.

Ten migrant labourers from Jharkhand came to Sajguri, a village under Birmaharajpur block of Subarnapur, days before the lockdown to work on the construction of a school toilet.

After the lockdown, they got stuck in the same school on the outskirts of Sajguri. They had nowhere to go as the villagers had sealed the entry to the village.
The migrants lived in complete isolation. “We were exhausting our groceries fast and could not go to the grocery store to buy fresh items despite having some cash. We were on the verge of starvation,” Rajkumar Mandal, one of the migrants, said.

They were found on April 7, 2020, by volunteers of RARE in a helpless condition. Their plight was brought to the notice of Subarnapur collector Monisha Banerjee. 

Within no time, the district administration instructed the local sarpanch to arrange hot, cooked meals twice a day for the migrants.

Banerjee has asked block development officers in the district to provide items of daily need to the migrant labourers and their families staying in the camps with proper documentation.

She has also directed the officers to provide 250 ml milk, biscuit, cake, banana as morning breakfast for children and sanitary napkins for women.
“If possible, children toys like plastic bat and ball can be provided to children,” a communication from her said.

Pregnant women are getting special care by accredited social health activists (ASHAs), auxiliary nurse midwives (ANM) and anganwadi workers.
Suryakanti Tandi, came in January with her husband from Sileikela village under Belpada block of Balangir to work in a brick kiln in Gulunda village under Binka block of Subarnapur.

She delivered her child in the local community health centre under the health workers’ care. Nandini Satnami, a pregnant woman migrant labourer, said she was comfortable staying in a school at Palas village.

“I am in safe hands of ASHA and ANM workers who are looking after me well,” she said.

Bishambar Sahu is a trained counsellor and part of a team constituted by the district administration, RARE and Action Aid to provide necessary counselling to migrant labourers.

“During such monumental crises as COVID-19, swift action to reach out to the people in distress alleviates a lot of their agonies. That has been achieved by the joint action by the administration and non-governmental organisations,” he said.

The efforts in Subarnapur may be looked in the context of unrest among migrant labourers across the country. In many places, they have hit the streets complaining about harassment and humiliation besides lack of food.

The whole idea of the outreach programme in Subarnapur was to accord deserved respect and dignity along with food to the distressed migrants, Ghasiram Panda, programme manager of Action Aid that supports RARE, said.

“A little care and sensitivity make a lot of difference. I am happy that the Subarnapur district administration has tried its best to take care of the migrants,” he said.

Due to the lockdown, around 77,000 migrant workers from other states have been stranded in Odisha. The state government has been providing them food and accommodation in 2,553 camps across the state.

Up to April 15, Odisha has tested 6,734 samples for COVID-19 out of which, 60 have been positive cases. So far, one person has died due to the virus while 18 persons have recovered.

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