With inputs from Hasina Shaikh, Deepali Mistry and Sandhya Katkar of Sanmaan project
Prerana’s Sanmaan project works with children rescued from begging and children who live on the streets. Since the lockdown, they have been following-up on the children who they work with telephonically, ensuring remote assistance and linkages to relief to the best of the organisation’s abilities.
“Spending two weeks at a field outside the village without any help was a nightmare for us” shares 12 year old Reema (name changed) during a follow-up call with a social worker from Sanmaan. Reema is enrolled in the sixth grade in an Ashram School in Solapur. She belongs to the Pardhi tribe. She has a younger brother who stays at a child care institution in Mumbai while her parents stay in Pune. The child’s parents have been staying in Pune for more than 10 years. Earlier, they used to come to Mumbai to sell flowers every two months for a few days. On one such visit her brother was rescued from begging. When nationwide lockdown was announced on 25th March, Reema’s parents received a call from the Ashram school. The Principal requested the family to take their child home as the school had received a circular from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, seeking that all the children who were staying at that Ashram school to be sent home. Reema’s parents went to Solapur the same day to bring the child home. However, due to the lockdown they could not return to Pune as no mode of transport was operational.
Stuck far from home, the family decided to go to their native village in Solapur which was close to the school. However, when the family reached the village, they were not allowed to enter. The villagers were afraid that the family may be infected with COVID-19 and asked them to stay in a field at the periphery of the village. “Our family was asked to stay in isolation for an indefinite period. Nobody knew clearly for how many days we should be staying in isolation. We did not know where to stay in the field as there were no provisions. My parents managed to create a makeshift hut and a Chulha (stove) with whatever wood was available nearby. We stayed there for two weeks in those conditions. No food was arranged for us, and we cooked what we got from the field. The food my parents were carrying from Pune only lasted for the initial 2-3 days.”, shared Reema, sounding quite distressed.
During this phase of isolation, our team could get updates on the family only through Reema’s uncle but could not connect with either Reema or her parents.The family had a phone but due to poor network in the village, it was not functioning well. Through constant follow-up with Reema’s uncle, the team managed to link the family to relief material. Although it has been a few weeks since the isolation, the child continues to feel disturbed while talking about the struggle she and her faced. She was asked to leave her school suddenly and was left without a shelter for two weeks.
In the initial few weeks of the lockdown, many people who cannot easily access sources of information, were left in a state of chaos and confusion about what they were supposed to do. In Reema’s case, the villagers did not know much hence asked the family to live under such harsh circumstances. Reema shared with us in her interactions that her family was not given any reason for their isolation. The family had no way to contact anyone and could also not communicate with their other child staying at the CCI in Mumbai for those two weeks. As the family was unaware of the extent of the lockdown, they could not prepare themselves and hence, did not have sufficient money to procure ration either.
The sudden announcement of lockdown had led to a crisis in the lives of many, and Reema’s case highlights how it affected people even in areas with seemingly few cases of COVID-19.