It was around 7.30 a.m on Thursday. The Government Arts College in Hosur was swarming with migrant workers, who would board the first train from Hosur to Uttar Pradesh that afternoon.
A group of Muslim men, some with skull caps, visibly exhausted, and armed with laptops were keying in Aadhaar numbers on an excel sheet for each of the migrant workers. There were over 1,000 migrants with the last of their belongings. The volunteers from the Muslim community were at it since the previous night, liaising between the officials and the workers, in Hindi, in the holy month of Ramzan.
Another team from the community was preparing over 1,800 food packets of tamarind rice and lemon rice with heavy dose of ground nuts, and chappatis with tomato chutney in their kitchen, in addition to the food that was being packed by the Hosur Corporation for the migrant workers in the central kitchen of Amma canteen. Water bottles, fruit drinks, biscuits were part of the goodies along with food distributed to the travelling migrants.
On Thursday, at 1.50 p.m, when the first train chugged out of the platform of Hosur railway station, this band of youth after clocking volunteer work non-stop for over two days and nights clapped to cheer the smiling, home-bound migrant workers.
When the pandemic acquired a communal colour in some parts of the country, this group, with the support of various jamaaths of Hosur channelled their energeies into COVID relief in the industrial town.
Their presence was a shot in the arm for the Hosur Corporation and Hosur revenue administration – both faced with a short window of contacting over 1,600 workers on Tuesday evening, when the train schedule arrived and arranging for food. Faced with the mammoth task of contacting the migrant workers registered in the nonresidenttamil.org website to go home, Hosur tahsildar K.Venkatesan took the help of these volunteers of COVID relief.
“When we look back, it feels good,” says Abdul Hadr, one of the coordinators of the volunteering community youth. “ We have a strong tech team. On Tuesday, within a span of three hours, we made 400 plus calls to UP workers.” Since then, they had also made 700 calls to Jharkhand workers and 1,200 calls to Odissa workers, to organise them for the forthcoming trains, next week. Abdul Hadr and his brother Abdul Bari, who run a Trust, organised with the support of various jaamaaths of the Hosur.
Their band of youth, resourceful, highly qualified, and employed as doctors, techies, have been doing COVID relief work distributing cooked food and dry rations. “Our friends across the globe contributed funds to feed people here,” says Hadr.
Perhaps their first push came in the early days of COVID from Abdul Hadr’s sister, a dermatologist at the Hosur government hospital. It was still early days of COVID and there were no PPEs. “When we found that the doctors were apprehensive of seeing patients without protective gear, we supplied PPEs and N-95 protective masks for all the doctor of the GH.”
When cross border movement of people continued, their community’s kitchen ran overtime, providing 300 packs of hot cooked dinner at the inter-State checkpost to feed the walkers.
In all this, the ingenuity of the local Hosur Corporation, led by its Commssioner K.Balasubramaniam, also stood out. Mr.B alasubramaniam roped in all the help that was needed. On Thursday morning, as the first load of breakfast for migrant workers left the central kitchen of Amma canteen, Hosur Commissioner was also relieved that the train was arriving late. “Otherwise, we could not have prepared meals for 1,600 people. They would go hungry for two days in the train,” he said. Simultaneously, he made calls to the biggest garment stores asking them to provide bags to put in the food packed for the workers.
“We will get a call from the border post saying there are people without food. There will be some rava in the kitchen, and I’ll call them to whip up some upma,” says Mr. Balasubramaniam. For him, the lockdown if any, ensured full square meals for the sanitation workers. Earlier, they were not entitled to food from the canteen. Now, they get to eat full, and their work load has reduced considerably, says the Commissioner.
Without the officials, none of this would be possible, says Hadr underlining the need for decentralising and delegating relief work and embracing help from all quarters without redtape. “Sundaramoorthy sir, please come,” he called out introducing the sanitation inspector. “He readily came to inspect the kitchen to ensure food safety of the meals for the migrants. “They trusted us, delegated work, and we did it. I would call it the joint effort of all.”
On Thursday afternoon, when the train was about to leave, these officials and volunteers receded to the background and optics gained foreground. A railway police officer scurried along the platform looking through the windows. He finally stopped at the window of a Muslim woman and asked her to say something, while he recorded a video on the phone. “The officer asked me to thank the Railway Minister for sending a train,” said the woman, who had covered up her face for the video.
Tamil Nadu government paid ₹920 for the workers and ensured they had left the State with dignity and their stomachs full, said an official.
On May 25, when a Jharkhand train would come to fetch the migrant workers to their State, this community of volunteers plan to celebrate Eid with the migrants on the platform.
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