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COVID Crisis: How An Indian Family Is Helping Stranded Migrant Workers During Lockdown

Ever since India has been under a nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19, people are suffering in some way or the other. But a majority of these sufferers are poor and migrant workers stranded in big cities. Not a single day passes when one may not come across videos and pictures of poor migrant workers facing hardships during this lockdown. Vipin Kaushik, a man from Surat, Gujarat, was moved after he came across a video that showed a clash between migrant workers and the police. He thought he should help these poor stranded migrant workers in whatever way he could. Along with his family, he came up with a website called to help stranded workers in India.

In a telephonic interview with The Indian Express, Vipin Kaushik revealed, "I kept wondering why these people are being harassed unnecessarily. They just want to go home. Why can't the government let them go home?" The 61-year-old senior citizen decided to take the help of his younger daughter Pankhuri Kaushik, a software engineer in an IT firm who lives in Bangalore with her software engineer husband Hiren Sharma.

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The couple agreed immediately and thought of doing something. Hiren Sharma said, "At first, I was a bit baffled. Though I understand that it is an important cause, I was wondering how we would reach these people because most do not even have an internet connection." They decided to help the workers by developing a website and then spreading it through social media platforms and WhatsApp.

Pankhuri and Hiren did their best to come up with a website in just a week that would work as a database for migrant workers. It would save information about their current location and the place they are willing to go to. They also hired two young graphic designers and assigned them the role of creating logos and posters for the website and for spreading word of mouth.

Mr Kaushik also added his elder daughter Ritika Kaushik also. She is a 32-year-old PhD scholar at an American university and currently residing in Chicago. Ritika who is a student of media and cinema studies, was assigned the task of preparing the content for the website. "I was pretty struck because I do realise it is the most urgent thing to do right now. Yet, I was not sure how they would go about it," mentioned Ritika. "I had to ask a lot of questions before putting together the content. But I managed to finish it overnight," she further added.

Finally, on 6 May 2020, the website named was launched with a tagline, 'Aa ab laut chalein' which means 'Let's go back'. The website was developed and launched with the intention of connecting with the stranded migrants and helping them in reaching their hometown. The family circulated the website over social media and through WhatsApp. It collected information like name, mobile number, location and the desired destination of the stranded migrant workers.

In a matter of a few days, they connected with their first batch of over 4,000 stranded migrant workers. They also connected with a group of men from Katihar, Bihar who are staying in a pitiful condition in Mumbai. They are left with no money and food.

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Zabidul Ali, a 32-year-old man who fed his information on the website said, "We have been told that the government authorities have been informed about us and that we will be able to travel back home soon." He came across the website through WhatsApp and then he received a call from Mr Kaushik. Ali had been working in Mumbai since 2011 while his wife and children are back in his hometown.

"We are very confused about the procedure to get tickets for traveling back home. Every time I approach the local police, they shoo us away with the promise that we will receive a phone call when our tickets are ready," adds Ali. He also said that for two months he didn't earn a single penny due to the lockdown and therefore, staying in the city seems to be extremely difficult for not only him but his fellow workers as well.

Mr Kaushik has tried his best in getting in touch with over 9000 stranded people from 53 different cities including Haryana, West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and many other cities. Out of these, Kamathipura, Mumbai is one of the biggest hubs of these poor migrant workers. The challenge is that most of the workers residing in Kamathipura do not have access to social media and therefore, reaching out to them is challenging as well.

Mr Kaushik said, "The biggest challenge is to get in touch with clusters such as the one in Kamathipura. They are not to be found anywhere on social media so it is difficult to spread the word among them."

Two days back, Mr Kaushik got in touch with Amin Patel, a local MLA who has also joined the initiative to help the poor migrants go back to their respective homes. He said, "The police station has made note of their request, and we have made an appeal to the government for a train to drop them to their destination. Once we hear back from the concerned authorities, we will let them know and make arrangements for them to be brought to the railway station."

Initially, the website and initiative were intended only for migrant workers but now Mr Kaushik has also got in touch with students, working professions, tourists and other people stranded in big cities due to the lockdown.

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Ever since the website came into existence, Mr Kaushik has been glued to his laptop and mobile phone. He said that he daily receives hundreds of forms and then he also gets in touch with whosoever feed the information on the website. He is trying his best to make arrangements for these poor migrant workers. This clearly shows how people across the world have come together to fight a common issue called coronavirus.