Jan Sahas is our partner in responding to the pandemic. They began to work with stranded migrants at the beginning of lockdown in late March 2020. They began a free helpline where stranded migrants could call to reach out for help. They distributed ration kits and food packets and helped ensure the people they received distress calls from had access to entitlements.
At the time of writing this issue of The Dispatch, official reports stated that about 144 migrants died while walking back to their villages after the lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020. Jan Sahas spoke to about 3200 migrants over the phone. A report based on these conversations called Voices of Invisible Citizens states that 42% of these people did not have rations for the next day. About 90% of them did not have a “building or construction work” card and 15% of them did not have a ration card.
Team members from Jan Sahas answered calls from migrants on the 24⁄7 helpline. Many migrants were worried they would never see their families again. Many worried that it wasn’t the virus that would kill them, but hunger. Many asked for cash transfers or help with PayTm transfers for buying food or mobile recharges for calling their families. Jan Sahas would organise this, transferring money, organising recharges. The number of migrants calling for help with issues around mental health were already on the rise.
Jan Sahas organised ration and food packets for 20,000 people by mid-April 2020. They made cash transfers or mobile phone recharges for about 3000. As a process of working with the helpline, they collected the bank details of 9000 migrants. Jan Sahas kept up with this work through the course of the lockdown and began to focus on strengthening government efforts, since they feel it will take some years for people to recover from the economic and emotional toll of the lockdown.
A 28-member team answered calls from migrants who said they had no option but to commit suicide. A few migrants have not been answering their phones after that call.