In the Nick of Time

In the Nick of Time

Seventy-eight year old Zakruddin lives in Dumil Kuppam, a Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) settlement along the sea in Chennai. He lives alone; his wife fell ill a year ago and moved to her native place in Tiruvarur for her treatment, while his two children are settled in different parts of the city. He earned his living by running a tiffin stall; he employed a few people and he served vegetable rice (or as is known better as brinji rice). He was selling at least 50 packets a day and this was good enough to meet his daily expenses. That is until the lockdown was announced.

“Everything changed after the lockdown was announced, I could not open my small tiffin stall. I had no support staff coming in for work. I was at least selling 50 packs a day  and with that I met my daily needs but all this was lost after lockdown. At my age and physical ailments I had no means of looking for another job,” he said.

Alone and helpless, he managed to get some help from his children who lived in another part of the city. “But they were in the same state as I was. Moreover, they had children to feed. Neighbours also helped once in while. But as the days passed by it became difficult for anyone to take care of anyone else. No one had that kind of income to share it with other people,” Zakruddin added.

In June, just about when he had run out of all options, a few neighbours told him about the volunteers from BLESS and Oxfam India. “While they were doing their survey, I met them  and they assured me of help. It was a great day when I went to the distribution site and received the dry ration kit; I was very happy that this would help me eat a good meal every day for many days.”

As part of the response, Oxfam India has been reaching out to some of the most marginalised communities across 16 states. And with ample support from its donors it has been distributing cooked food, dry ration, hygiene and safety kits, and distributing cash to the poorest households.

Barclays is one of them. With Barclays support, Oxfam India has reached out to 11550 people in five states — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. They include people with disabilities, women-led households, waste pickers, domestic workers, transgenders, tea garden workers, migrant and informal sector workers, riot-affected families, daily wagers, and street vendors.

In Chennai alone, Oxfam India and BLESS reached out to 1550 households with food and hygiene kit which included 20 kgs of Rice, 3 kgs of pulses, 10 kgs of flour, a packet of haldi and chili powder each, a litre of refined oil, a kg of salt, sugar and soy bean. The kit also includes five units of masks, and six units of bathing soap, washing soap and sanitary napkins each.

“I have no words to thank the timely support provided by the organisations in helping people like me who had no source of income and who were at the verge of losing hope,” said Zakruddin.

(The author is from our partner NGO BLESS in Chennai)

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