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Labour India

Food, hunger, and the love language of service

Many economically disadvantaged people, stranded migrant workers, and those walking/travelling to their home-towns are finding it difficult to obtain food. There has been a surge of local residents, NGOs, and informal organisations providing food to people in need

Ishmeet Nagpal 01 Jun 2020

CJPCitizens for Justice and Peace volunteer distribute food in Mumbai
 

The line outside the local grocery store is marked out in neat circles 5-6 feet apart, separating the diverse crowd of delivery app executives, hassled middle-aged men and women, and tired senior citizens. There is a heavy silence before spontaneous comments about the impending rain in Mumbai, give way to a full-blown conversation among strangers. There is palpable concern about the extension of the lockdown, unpaid salaries, and apprehension about the condition of migrant workers who are in transit or waiting to go home.

More than 80 people (including children) have lost their lives while travelling in Shramik trains- some due to lack of food and water on the trains, and some due to co-morbidities. While civilian volunteers and NGOs have stepped up to distribute food and water on the trains, the situation begs the question- why has the Ministry of Railways not done its job? Why are the state governments passing the buck to each other?

The humanitarian crisis created by a poorly executed lockdown has seen a surge of volunteerism by common people in trying to provide food to those in need. From celebrities to local volunteer organizations and religious institutions- everyone making an effort to make food available to those in need, is speaking the only love language we can fathom in a time that demands social distancing, making the act of service our primary expression of empathy. The story of author Nazia Erum’s children drawing colourful pictures on food packets meant for children of stranded migrant workers, is one such example.


As much as this phenomenon is a statement of humanity, it also political. We all saw the heart-warming images from Vaishno Devi shrine where food for Sehri and Iftari was prepared for 500 quarantined Muslims observing Ramzan, and we also witnessed the backlash this act received from individuals and organizations like Bajrang Dal. On the other hand, a handful of stories also emerged about quarantined Upper-Caste Hindus wrefusing to eat meals prepared by Dalit cooks. Food, even as a gesture of empathy, comes with added emotional and political connotations, as well as intersections of social inequalities.

With loss of livelihood and homes, hunger is the primary concern of an increasing number of citizens- citizens who in all probability will not receive benefits from the still unravelling economic package, or receive the courtesy of being treated like dignified human beings with the escalating efforts underway to poke holes in labour laws. When the added burden of caste and class discrimination falls on the dynamics of resource distribution in the aftermath of this crisis, the vulnerable will be left hungry. The imminent danger, then, is not a virus, but an empty stomach.

A lot of situations that have come into the spotlight during this lockdown have been dubbed as “wake-up calls” for seeing the truths of economic and caste privilege, rampant inequalities, failures of administration, gender-based violence, and mental health. For the ones who are bearing the brunt of this crisis, this has been their lived reality and the “wake-up calls” for the privileged are too little, too late. The way forward, then, counts on the actions of those who have the privilege to act.

For once, the differences of religion, caste, gender, class, will have to be demolished to make way for the shared goal of service. The authorities will need to be held accountable, and the existing system will need to be hauled up for its shortcomings. Until the day we build an actual system of democracy where citizen volunteerism is not the primary pillar supporting those in need, we cannot say that we have built a successful nation. When common people have to don the roles of heroes, know that the “system” has failed to do its job. Till we achieve this, all we do, is keep each other alive and serve food to anyone who needs it.

 

Related articles:

SC takes suo motu cognisance of migrant crisis

Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services: Rail Minister Piyush Goyal

Why are only trains carrying migrants being ‘diverted’ to take longer routes?

 

 

 

Food, hunger, and the love language of service

Many economically disadvantaged people, stranded migrant workers, and those walking/travelling to their home-towns are finding it difficult to obtain food. There has been a surge of local residents, NGOs, and informal organisations providing food to people in need

CJPCitizens for Justice and Peace volunteer distribute food in Mumbai
 

The line outside the local grocery store is marked out in neat circles 5-6 feet apart, separating the diverse crowd of delivery app executives, hassled middle-aged men and women, and tired senior citizens. There is a heavy silence before spontaneous comments about the impending rain in Mumbai, give way to a full-blown conversation among strangers. There is palpable concern about the extension of the lockdown, unpaid salaries, and apprehension about the condition of migrant workers who are in transit or waiting to go home.

More than 80 people (including children) have lost their lives while travelling in Shramik trains- some due to lack of food and water on the trains, and some due to co-morbidities. While civilian volunteers and NGOs have stepped up to distribute food and water on the trains, the situation begs the question- why has the Ministry of Railways not done its job? Why are the state governments passing the buck to each other?

The humanitarian crisis created by a poorly executed lockdown has seen a surge of volunteerism by common people in trying to provide food to those in need. From celebrities to local volunteer organizations and religious institutions- everyone making an effort to make food available to those in need, is speaking the only love language we can fathom in a time that demands social distancing, making the act of service our primary expression of empathy. The story of author Nazia Erum’s children drawing colourful pictures on food packets meant for children of stranded migrant workers, is one such example.


As much as this phenomenon is a statement of humanity, it also political. We all saw the heart-warming images from Vaishno Devi shrine where food for Sehri and Iftari was prepared for 500 quarantined Muslims observing Ramzan, and we also witnessed the backlash this act received from individuals and organizations like Bajrang Dal. On the other hand, a handful of stories also emerged about quarantined Upper-Caste Hindus wrefusing to eat meals prepared by Dalit cooks. Food, even as a gesture of empathy, comes with added emotional and political connotations, as well as intersections of social inequalities.

With loss of livelihood and homes, hunger is the primary concern of an increasing number of citizens- citizens who in all probability will not receive benefits from the still unravelling economic package, or receive the courtesy of being treated like dignified human beings with the escalating efforts underway to poke holes in labour laws. When the added burden of caste and class discrimination falls on the dynamics of resource distribution in the aftermath of this crisis, the vulnerable will be left hungry. The imminent danger, then, is not a virus, but an empty stomach.

A lot of situations that have come into the spotlight during this lockdown have been dubbed as “wake-up calls” for seeing the truths of economic and caste privilege, rampant inequalities, failures of administration, gender-based violence, and mental health. For the ones who are bearing the brunt of this crisis, this has been their lived reality and the “wake-up calls” for the privileged are too little, too late. The way forward, then, counts on the actions of those who have the privilege to act.

For once, the differences of religion, caste, gender, class, will have to be demolished to make way for the shared goal of service. The authorities will need to be held accountable, and the existing system will need to be hauled up for its shortcomings. Until the day we build an actual system of democracy where citizen volunteerism is not the primary pillar supporting those in need, we cannot say that we have built a successful nation. When common people have to don the roles of heroes, know that the “system” has failed to do its job. Till we achieve this, all we do, is keep each other alive and serve food to anyone who needs it.

 

Related articles:

SC takes suo motu cognisance of migrant crisis

Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services: Rail Minister Piyush Goyal

Why are only trains carrying migrants being ‘diverted’ to take longer routes?

 

 

 

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