With local panchayat functionaries busy grappling with the consequences of the nationwide lockdown, a cluster of women’s groups in Udaipur district’s Salumbar block have started an initiative to help the most vulnerable households and to fight fake news and misinformation about the novel coronavirus. They have also gathered authentic information about the government’s various welfare schemes.
Ujala Samoohs, working as women’s solidarity groups, have come together in 15 village panchayats of the tribal-dominated Salumbar block to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that vulnerable families, which may have been left out of the schemes, receive their benefits during the present crisis. Besides, they have spread awareness about methods to stay safe and prevent infection.
Udaipur-based Ajeevika Bureau, working among the communities dependent on migration and labour, has supported the initiative to enable the women in the region to assert their citizenship rights. “The lockdown has shattered migrant labourers’ lives,” Preema Dhurve, in-charge of Workers’ Support and Resource Centre in Salumbar, told The Hindu on Tuesday. “The villagers, waiting for the government’s assistance, fear that they may catch infection any time,” she added.
Through a number of activities, including connecting with Sarpanches on social media groups, the Ujala Samooh members have gathered information on the availability of assistance and benefits under the government’s schemes to keep everyone informed in the villages. As the groups have been active in the block for the last nine years, their network in about 160 villages has helped them reach out to the vulnerable families.
Ujala Samooh leader Narni Bai prepared a list of vulnerable households, including those comprising the landless poor and those headed by single women, because the panchayat had missed her hamlet when listing out households for free rations. She gathered information about the government’s relief package and held the panchayat secretary accountable.
Hudi Bai, a ward panch, pushed for free rations for all families in her area, while challenging the government’s definition of vulnerable households with the contention that the families of migrant workers who earn 50% of their livelihood from remittances ought to be included in the welfare schemes.
Similarly, a tribal hamlet in Banoda panchayat was included in the official survey carried out to estimate the number of most vulnerable families after persistent efforts of Ujala Samooh member Narayani Bai and her husband Shanti Lal. The ration dealer had earlier refused to come to the hamlet for home delivery and asked the villagers to come to his shop.
Ms. Dhurve said the initiative to challenge the spread of fake news had also led to the tribal villagers seeking medical help for cold, cough and influenza. “They earlier feared the screening equipment of health workers. The labourers who came back to villages from big cities were not willing to report about their travel,” she added.