The past couple of years has been dominated by the fallout from COVID-19 and associated lockdowns. However, Sangtin continued to work on a number of issues including MGNREGA, livelihoods, food security, agriculture, health, and youth engagement.
Uttar Pradesh was not as affected by COVID-19 directly during the first wave, but bore the brunt of the migrant worker crisis. After the country was locked down on March 23rd, 2020 a number of migrant workers from Sitapur were left stranded in Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and other places throughout India. Many Saathis and friends of Sangtin came together to provide aid to the stranded families, and to help them get back home. With so many people returning to their villages, the demand for work under MGNREGA grew and Sangtin pushed for the opening of worksites during the lockdown itself, to ensure some income for farmer-laborers. Food relief kits were provided to about 700 families through donations raised by friends and supporters, and masks were provided to over 3000 Saathis. Pamphlets were distributed and informational sessions were organized as well.
Extra rations were announced by the government during the 2020 lockdown, along with 1 kg of chana (gram) per family for 2 months. Saathis ensured that chana was distributed in all the associated villages.
The Sangtin team realized that a number of small enterprises, such as bicycle repair shops and vegetable vending, had to shut down after the lockdown due to their having run out of capital. Thanks to a generous Indian funder, we were able to provide 104 such micro-enterprises with ₹2000 each, so that they could resume their livelihoods. Due to the lockdown, many activities had to be conducted online, and the Sangtin team learned (and taught each other) how to navigate Zoom, conference calling services, etc.
The second wave of Covid-19 in India, from April-June 2021, was devastating. In rural Sitapur and Hardoi districts, the disease blazed through villages. An informal survey of 20 villages, that we conducted in mid-June 2021, showed that half of all the households in these villages had at least one sick family member during April-May and that 41 deaths and 85 cases of serious illness had been recorded. Our Saathis, like people across India, was very hesitant to call their illness Covid, preferring to say that they had fever and cough-cold. Very few visited government hospitals, which were anyway crowded and understaffed. Most went to informal practitioners. These ‘doctors’ treated them with paracetamol, anti-malarial drugs, antibiotics, and steroids.
Throughout April, May, and June, Sangtin set up zoom sessions and conference calls with village-level Saathis, discussing masking and other measures to prevent the spread, quarantining Covid-19 symptoms, and basic care for patients. We also provided some senior Saathis with oximeters and thermal scanners. These devices were also given to informal practitioners doctors, along with training sessions conducted by Dr. Gogia, a Delhi-based physician, Dr. Gogia explained the disease and treatment protocols in detail. He also provided consultation sessions for those experiencing severe symptoms.
Using the relief funds, Sangtin also provided food relief kits to 1000 vulnerable families. These included families with a TB patient or disabled family member, women-led households, and households with only aged members. As almost all these households now hold ration cards and were being supplied extra wheat and rice, the relief kits provided pulses, oil, soap, etc. In some kits, we added half a kilo of foxtail, barnyard, or kodo millet rice.
Due to the high level of exposure in UP, the second wave of Covid-19 receded as rapidly as it had progressed. By mid-July, physical meetings had resumed and Sangtin began hosting events such as kabaddi matches for SYM members. Capacity-building workshops began to be organized from August onwards, and a youth conference was organized in September. The Kheti-khana team distributed seeds to almost 300 farmers, and the millet harvest this season is expected to cross 30 quintals. Unfortunately, unseasonal rainfall has led to crop damage, especially for pulses and til (sesame). Stray cattle continue to devastate crops, and marginal farmers have now become resigned to these losses.
As usual, Saathis have been applying for work under MGNREGA and many have received work and payments since the start of the fiscal year. But work has become harder to obtain, and given the Covid-19 pandemic, workers are struggling to access even 100 days of work.