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IJM Odisha has supported more than 1,500 families - including stranded migrant labourers

ODISHA STATE, INDIA – The IJM Odisha team has been hard at work protecting vulnerable families during the COVID-19 lockdown—from dealing with opportunists trying to jack up ration prices, to bringing food to those struggling to cope at home. Together, Team Odisha has been able to help more than 1,500 families in the past two weeks alone.

Along the way, we have been pleasantly surprised by calls of support from top officials in the Odisha government, including the Principal Secretary of Labour and a popular former Member of Parliament.

Here are some of the ways IJM and our partners are helping survivors and other vulnerable families being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Ensuring food for families back home

IJM field worker Surendra recently got a tip over WhatsApp about a group of 25 migrant labourers from Odisha who are stranded at a factory in Mumbai where they had been working. They desperately wanted to return to their home villages, but Surendra convinced them it would be extremely risky to try traveling during the lockdown.

Surendra also realized, though, that these migrants were deeply worried about their families back at home, who they had been supporting with their wages. Many of these families did not have Ration Cards, which are provided by the government to help impoverished people get basic food and supplies.

Surendra and the team immediately got in touch with local partners to provide these struggling families with food and other supplies to sustain them in the lockdown. Authorities will also help these families get their Ration Cards so they’ll be safer long-term.

Forced to work during lockdown

IJM Odisha’s Partner Relations Manager Nithaniyal got in touch with another group of 108 labourers from Balangir, Nuapada and Kalahandi districts who were stranded in a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu state, in southern India.

These labourers told him that, despite the lockdown period, they were still being forced to work for 13 hours a day—sometimes until 1:00 a.m. The owner and his men assaulted them if anyone wanted a break due to ill health. They were denied enough food and the owner tried jacking up the prices of basic rice and vegetables, which the labourers’ “earnings” of 200 rupees per weak could not afford. Tamil Nadu authorities had been making efforts to communicate with the labourers, but language had become a major barrier.

Peeyus, our government relations manager, got in touch with an organisation called Sramik Adhikar Mancha which is working along with the government specifically to help stranded labourers from Odisha. With their help, government officials and police reached the facility with supplies and distributed it among the labourers. The administration also warned the owner from making the labourers work during the lockdown period.

In total, Peeyus has also worked with the SAA to get help to 200+ labourers from different IJM-referred cases, including two brick kilns and one t-shirt company.

Icing on the cake

The COVID-19 lockdown has added to the miseries of scores of Odisha’s labourers stranded at different places, but our team is on its feet working with the government and doing every bit possible. Here are a few of the high-profile government officials with whom we’re working:

  • Manik Misra, IJM Odisha’s lead for Training and Development, received a call from the Principal Secretary of Labour, Women and Child Welfare, Anu Garg, asking if IJM had information on any other stranded labourers and how IJM had been responding in this period of crisis. She asked us to reach out to her for any cases of migrant labourers from other states stranded in Odisha.
  • Former MP Kalikesh Singh Deo from migration-prone Balangir district has been an advocate for IJM in the past, and recently reached out to IJM seeking help for about 1,000 migrant labourers stranded in Tamil Nadu. IJM helped coordinate with Deputy Inspector General Himanshu Lal in Tamil Nadu, who not only helped in getting the police to distribute cooked food at those facilities, but was also kind enough to share the pictures and videos to update Manik about the follow-up.

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IJM’s May COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 has undeniably shaken our entire global community. Despite the complications caused by restrictions on content and movement, our committed teams all around the world continue to fight for justice and provide support for those who need it most. We’d love to share their work with you, so here’s some highlights!

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IJM teams across India have responded to the world's largest nationwide lockdown with compassion and rapid action, with released bonded labourers leading the response efforts.

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