Four women write about their experience of running a food drive for migrant workers in New Delhi’s Shankar Camp. They talk about how it was easier to sort logistical and monetary challenges but not the menstrual taboos. Read on to know more:

What started as a concern to help our electrician has now become an initiative reaching 240 families covering 1,000 to 1,100 people approximately. Bhaiya (the electrician) from Saharsa, Bihar tells us how the lack of owning a ration card hinders him and others like him from receiving dry, grocery items, during this lockdown. We contacted a few NGOs, of which Centre For Advocacy and Research (CFAR), Kalkaji came forward and made generous contributions of essential items which like rice, dal, oil, soap, sanitary napkins, tea, sugar, salt and spices.

WHO ARE WE?

We are a group of four research scholars from JNU and part of the organization DAPSA (Dalits, Adivasis, professors scholars association) self-quarantining together at Vasant Kunj Enclave. Interactions that happen when we stepped out to get vegetables and groceries were laden with stories of hardships and suffering. Once we got a positive response, it was decided in a matter of minutes that we would be involved in this initiative together. Post making a few calls and we had our building caretaker, carpenter and two of his friends ready to help us with getting names and creating a list of the residents of Shankar Camp against their Aadhar number (for purposes of transparency and equal distribution).

ABOUT SHANKAR CAMP

Shankar Camp is the area behind Vasant Kunj and is inhabited by approximately 5,000 people with a predominant migrant population from Bihar, Sundarbans and Uttar Pradesh.

THE DRIVE

The aforementioned four men also became the persons responsible for the distribution of the ration (whilst maintaining all rules of distancing and hygiene) to the respective families listed on our first roll. We did a two-hour-long crowdfunding drive on our social media to cover for logistics (payment for our distributors, petrol for delivery, gloves, masks and extra oil and sanitary pads).

That menstrual hygiene might hinder the relief work or that we were threatening power relations for the men in the area was a far-fetched thought. But alas, we were wrong.

THE CHALLENGES

Our experiences on the ground were totally different from what we had perceived. We knew we would be reckoned with logistical and monetary challenges. That menstrual hygiene might hinder the relief work or that we were threatening power relations for the men in the area was a far-fetched thought. But alas, we were wrong.

Women can’t accept sanitary pads delivered by men

It is important here to also mention the problems we faced in particular to gender norms. Firstly, since social distancing was our prime concern, we decided that four of us quarantining together would take care of the packaging. But every other evening our distributors would bring forth sanitary napkins. We, therefore, decided to wrap them in a paper bag so as to solve the issue. But the problem persisted, now we have two specific complaints that women can’t accept sanitary pads delivered by men and that food (dry groceries) can’t be touching sanitary pads. In a non-corona world, we, the women contingent of the initiative, would have either stepped up for the distribution or included women from the area for distribution. Both the options were risky for us and hence, unfortunately, we had to stop providing sanitary pads in our packages. We have saved the sanitary napkins to be included in the next list aimed at widows in the area.

We have two specific complaints that women can’t accept sanitary pads delivered by men and that food (dry groceries) can’t be touching sanitary pads.

Women leading a food drive is unacceptable

Secondly, men in the area were quite displeased with the fact that four women were making decisions regarding an initiative as significant as food, the consequence of which was taunts directed at the distributors. The distributors would inform us about taunts hurled at them for not having included men from Shankar Camp in the decision-making process. Getting calls from men (from the Shankar Camp) expressing their willingness to help us out with the pretext of doing us a big favour was the new regular. It took a while to comprehend that the sense of animosity we sensed from the male shopkeepers could be related to the relief project when as concerned people of the neighbourhood they would suggest us to shut the operations down for a couple of days so as to handle a potential (and non-existent) chaos.

Getting calls from men (from the Shankar Camp) expressing their willingness to help us out with the pretext of doing us a big favour was the new regular.

This work has been exhausting due to both the unprecedented amount of labour involved and the compulsive mental re-checks on hygiene but so has it been fulfilling. The prompt response on our crowdfunding drive which we carried out for a short two-and-a-half hour (to be precise) was heartwarming. We feel rewarded when people from the area commend us with the simple, “you people are doing good work here”.

The article has been co-written by Aditi Narayani, Mayalu Boro, Poonam Boro and Anuradha Sinha. The views expressed are the author’s own.

PC: India Today

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