Chennai

Looking out for the community

Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam  

By processing ePasses, arranging for private transport and offering emotional support in their language, regional associations are meeting a huge need

Dhaba worker: I just want to go home as everybody is going to their village. But I need to know two things: Do I have to pay for the train ticket and will I get food while travelling?

Ajoy Kumar Chakraborty: Do you have money with you to go?

DW: No

Chakraborty: You told me your family is safe and you don’t have a pressing reason to go. Can’t you wait for some more weeks? Don’t you want to take something for your children when you meet them?

DW: Yes, I think I must stay and earn some money as I am the sole breadwinner, but ....

This is the gist of a conversation, originally in Bengali, between a worker employed in a dhaba at GST Road with Ajoy Kumar Chakraborty.

“For the last 10 days, I am more of a counsellor to people. Some callers know the same thing that I know, but it’s just the happiness about emptying one’s heart out, talking in their mother tongue and offering some emotional support,” says Chakraborty, chairman of The Bengali Association Trust.

In the midst of the lockdown, when the State Government formed a committee with representatives from various states to help address the needs of migrants and those stranded in the city, many like Chakraborty have become facilitators.

A WhatsApp group called ‘Volunteer for Guest Worker’ was formed where members verify details of those in distress and liaise between the state government and migrants.

Cultural associations with guest houses opened up rooms for the stranded.

From ensuring supply of food to offering information such as the location of the closest Amma Canteen and ration shop, for most of these volunteers, this is a new experience.

Most of the migrants may be prone to social, psychological and emotional trauma in such situations and the best help they can get is having their concerns heard out. If that does not suffice then they make arrangements for them to travel to their home town.

“Their desire to get home is completely understandable, but some of them might get into bigger trouble going to their native town so we listen to their concerns first and advice accordingly,” says Chakraborty.

A similar view is echoed by Shantanu Kumar Jena, secretary, Prabasi Oriya Cultural Society. “Many people are uncertain about their future and also unclear about the stringent home quarantine they have to go through when they reach their home town, so therefore we explain things to them so that they are mentally prepared,” says Jena. When Jena knows a group of people are staying together, he asks them to put the phone in speaker mode and address them all. “Sometimes at least one or two would weigh the pros of staying back and take the responsibility persuading the others,” says Jena.

Filing epass

For the last one week, most of the Associations have been helping their members fill details online for getting the epass. “Close to 60% of those who contacted us are the unorganised workers and they don’t know how to fill all the details, so we speak to them and process their application for the Covid Jagratha travel pass,” says G. Prasheed Kumar, member of Malayalee Welfare Association at Perambur. The Association has so far arranged private bus transport facility to help over 1000 people from the city reach various parts of Kerala.

A call away

The Punjab Association has been putting their bulk SMS facility to good use. The Association has over 2000 families registered with them and almost every day a COVID-related message is sent out to all its members. “Thanks to our database that we have built over the years, we know senior citizens who are staying alone and who would need assistance; our members talk to them,” says Ramesh Lamba, general secretary, Punjab Association.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 7:11:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/looking-out-for-the-community/article31606549.ece

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