Feeding Thousands of Needy Workers in Powerloom Hub of Bhiwandi

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With the help of NGOs, “We set up a ‘bhojanshala’ where we began serving lunch and dinner every day for about 8,000 people,” informed Dr Shaikh Intekhab, president of the Bhiwandi unit of Movement for Peace & Justice (MPJ), Maharashtra. The photos arranged by Clarion India show how volunteers are doing their work including packing and distribution of food and taking care of the kitchen.

GROUND REPORT

With virtually all the powerloom units shutting down operations after the Covid-19 tragedy, thousands of workers who are jobless and without pay and their family members are being given food daily by NGOs who are also helping them stand up to the crisis

Ashok Kumar | Clarion India

MUMBAI – When the Covid-19 attack struck more than 100 days ago, Bhiwandi, the bustling powerloom hub, was one of worst-hit places in India.

The Muslim-majority city on the outskirts of Mumbai saw a sharp jump in Covid-19 cases and the death of many patients. About 2,500 persons were infected and about 125 have died. Expectedly, most of the powerloom units had to shut down and thousands of workers were left with virtually no money or food.

“Many of these labourers (mostly migrants from other parts of India) live 30 to 40 in a room,” Dr Shaikh Intekhab, president of the Bhiwandi unit of Movement for Peace & Justice (MPJ), Maharashtra, told Clarion India on Thursday. “Earlier, they used to get food from ‘Bissis’, where home food would be served to them in groups. But after the outbreak of Covid, all this stopped.”

A few NGOs like MPJ stepped in. “We set up a ‘bhojanshala’ where we began serving lunch and dinner every day for about 8,000 people,” explains Intekhab.

Some of the migrant workers had their families also living with them in Bhiwandi, so MPJ began distributing kits containing grains (25kg packs), vegetables (5kg) and biscuits (for kids). Even sanitary napkins were given to the women.

Many of the migrants have returned to their hometowns, but Intekhab says even today 6,000 people are being fed at night. Activists from MPJ and other NGOs also took action to prevent black marketing of essentials.

The situation in Bhiwandi has improved dramatically in recent days, especially after the appointment of Pankaj Ashiya as the new municipal commissioner in June. Ashiya, who had also tackled the Covid-19 crisis in nearby Malegaon, was posted to Bhiwandi as residents and community leaders were unhappy with the work of his predecessor.

Most of the powerloom units in Bhiwandi, once known as the Manchester of India, still remain closed, and less than 10 per cent are operational. Demand for its products, both in India and abroad, has been dwindling since last year. During its peak, Bhiwandi’s 7.5 lakh powerlooms processed nearly a third of India’s needs.

Nearly half of the powerloom units in the city were closed because of lack of demand. Many of the small entrepreneurs shut down their shops and went into other businesses or returned home.

The Covid-19 disaster added to the misery of the thousands of people in the ‘City of Weavers,’ which has been facing tough times of late. Part of Bhiwandi-Nizampur city corporation, it now faces a tough task in overcoming the Covid-19 disaster, which wrecked the livelihood of most of the 7.5 lakh inhabitants.

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