On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the country amidst rising COVID cases and states resorting to lockdowns, curfews and more to contain its spread.
As a young person, I was drawn toward one statement from the speech:
“I call upon the youth of India to form small committees and help in COVID administration in their areas. If that happens, the government will not have to put containment zones or lockdowns…”
The PM’s comment made me ask myself: are Bengaluru’s youth totally disconnected from social realities? Are they doing nothing about this health crisis?
The answer is a resounding NO.
The reality is the youth are very much there and doing what they can—- some are at the forefront, some silently making a difference, and others who will some day realise their potential and do their bit.
Throwback to April 2020
On April 14, 2020, Bengaluru had 80 positive cases. Cut to April 20, 2021, we had 13,782. Yes, there were things we were doing back then which were great and there are things we are doing now which can be improved.
Youth are already part of small committees and COVID administration in Bengaluru — in their society, mohalla, and apartment — and here’s what they did last year:
A practical proposal was made by Sensing Local, a Bengaluru based urban living lab co-founded by two young people Sobia Rafiq and Ankit Bhargava, to set up Ward Disaster Management Cells (WDMCs). Once put in place, WDMCs can strengthen the capabilities of the ward committees to deal with not just COVID, but also other crises like natural disasters.
The proposal reflected the ongoing discussion at that time as well as their personal experiences with the response to COVID at the local level. “Setting up effective WDMCs requires collaboration and consultation with several stakeholders surrounding the COVID-19 response – individuals, community networks, civic organisations, government, and so on,” said Ankit.
So the idea of forming “small committees” to “help in COVID administration in their areas” isn’t new. In fact, this is exactly what the 74th Amendment Act says the union and state governments must do.
Help for senior citizens during COVID lockdown
Senior citizens everywhere are a particularly vulnerable section of society in COVID times. Not only has COVID made it difficult for them to manage their day-to-day needs, but their age and related health conditions also make them more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
A number of initiatives sprung up in Bengaluru last year to specifically help senior citizens get medicines, groceries, mental health counselling and help with hospital visits. I have collated here a list of some initiatives that senior citizens and those who know of seniors in need, could reach out to.
And here, again, we see the youth at the forefront:
- Relief Riders, a campaign initiated by the #CycleToWork platform, for bicyclists to support senior citizens in their communities. Their volunteers went around on bicycles to deliver essentials like medicines, groceries and milk.
- Silver Talkies offers local, non-contact volunteering, especially for senior citizens who live alone and are unable to step out. The initiative was made possible with the support of a network of young Bengalureans.
- COVID-19 Responders took it upon themselves to check on senior citizens and make sure their needs were met. They delivered food, dry ration, milk and medicines to the elderly. They also counselled them over the phone, advising them against venturing out.
Read more details on how young people can help senior citizens:
How a young Bengalurean helped countless COVID patients with the right info on hospital beds
Santosh Doddaiah, 25, founded Covidbeds.org when he realised that the government’s data on COVID hospital beds was wrong. He and his team have been directing patients to the right hospitals, and are now offering counselling and ambulance services too.
Siddhant Kalra from Citizen Matters got in touch with Santosh who shared his story with him. After the article Does Bengaluru really have 13,000 hospital beds for COVID? was published, it looked like our voices might have been heard by BBMP.
A few days later, the list of private hospitals on the BBMP website came down to 85, which is closer to the actual number of private hospitals that offer COVID treatment. BBMP’s hospital data has kept changing since then.
Tackling COVID in slums: Setting up community quarantine centres
In Bengaluru’s low-income communities, residents are often unable to quarantine themselves at home due to space constraints. Community quarantine facilities were set up as a solution to this challenge. This again was made possible with the support and work of young volunteers.
Over 100 college students aided Bengaluru’s pourakarmikas
Last year, Antar, a group of college students from Bengaluru and other cities, came together to provide ration and relief kits to pourakarmikas and their families.
They had covered over 350 pourakarmikas’ families in Bengaluru by raising around Rs 1.5 lakh. Relief kits were provided through seven drives conducted in six wards including HAL, Indiranagar, Malleshpalya and Jogupalya.
Here’s what the students had to say: “COVID is far more than a health crisis; it has affected our economy and livelihoods, and has challenged our society overall. We have been applauding those in the healthcare sector, but few think of workers who’ve been risking their lives to maintain sanitation at the frontlines — cleaning our streets, ensuring that we don’t catch the virus — all with sub-optimal working conditions and lack of health cover.”
Solving the hunger crisis during lockdown: A guide to documenting migrant workers in need
Despite initiatives for food supply, large numbers of migrant workers in Bengaluru remained hungry during the 2020 lockdown. Even though NGOs and government agencies were involved in providing immediate relief (cooked food or dry ration) to the most vulnerable, the gap in their efforts was in the last-mile delivery of services.
Janata audits can be a way to fix this.
This article was based on ground learnings that volunteers or the ‘Community Saathi’/activists can take, for effective relief distribution.
So, young Bengalureans are doing what they can, and like Ankit said, “with increasing uncertainties, perhaps the answer yet again is to strengthen our decentralised systems of governance – ward committees.”
Even the National Disaster Management Plan (2016) states the following among its objectives:
- The need to strengthen disaster risk governance at all levels from local to Centre
- Empower both local authorities and communities as partners to reduce and manage disaster risk
- Promote the culture of disaster risk prevention and mitigation at all levels
Even today, young Bengalureans are doing whatever they can to ensure their fellow citizens survive the pandemic. As reported by Prajwal Bhat for TNM, residents in the city, many of them young, have “kickstarted volunteer efforts to provide food and other necessary items for COVID-19 patients.”
There are many such stories that media has highlighted. But what’s happening in one “mohalla” often stays there unless citizens like us decide to go out there and help, or better still, document processes, challenges and learnings so that it inspires other localities in the city to replicate and act.
There are several such instances and experiences that I know of, and have attempted to highlight some of them here, in the hope that we are all inspired to draw on the learnings from last year and do our best at the individual and community levels alongside agencies working to help those in need in this crisis.
In our country, engaging youth in ‘nation-building’ has been part of popular discourse. But this idea of nation-building has always centered on building skills that guarantee employment. Our education system too fosters individualism among young people, disconnecting them from society.
Contributing to communities in varied capacities should be seen as an integral part of building one’s life and nation. Volunteering builds young people’s capacity to transform not just society, but also their personal lives and careers.
To simply ask youth to form small committees and help in COVID administration questions their abilities and potential to be catalysts of change and pillars of hope in this difficult time.
As though young people aren’t already doing enough, amidst the fear of losing their family, their education, their jobs, their opportunities, and their future.
Will the Prime Minister ever talk about this?
- Voice of Indian youth: Where do I want my country to go from here?
- How Bengaluru youth are taking part in the global movement against climate change
- How youth from a Mumbai slum ensured food for all in the community during the COVID crisis
- Mumbai youth group urges support for the poor as they face starvation, job cuts along with COVID risk