COVID-19 warriors fill stomachs of migrant workers

Karnataka: Coronavirus warriors roped in to filter fake news, now fill stomachs of migrant workers during lockdown

Corona Warriors distribute essential commodities to the needy.

Every morning, amid the lockdown, thousands of ordinary men and women across Karnataka gear up to go into the streets.

Security personnel ensure that the curfew holds. The vast majority, however, have bigger concerns - helping thousands of starving migrant labourers.

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Part of an initiative of the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), these volunteers are officially known as ‘Corona Warriors’ (CWs). The group was initially formed to examine and counter fake news on Covid-19, said Pallavi Honnapur, Deputy Director of DIPR.

As many as 23,375 people signed up, she explained. The DIPR enrolled about 2,200 in Bengaluru and 2,000 elsewhere.

When the nationwide lockdown came into force on March 25, priorities changed.

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“We started to get reports of migrants suffering due to lack of food and so the focus changed to food delivery,” Honnapur said.

“In rural areas, the focus is still on busting fake news. But volunteers here also maintain a delivery service for essential items such as medicine,” she added.  The CWs are between the ages of 21 and 55.

Many are IT professionals, small businessmen, medical professionals, civil defence force members and students. Each ward in Bengaluru can have anywhere from nine to 15 CWs.

One of them, Ganesh (21), a third-year engineering student, said fieldwork involved not only surveying particular wards for migrants in need of help, but also ensuring that social distancing norms are adhered to. 

At Kumaraswamy Layout, where Ganesh operates, there are an estimated 300 migrant labourers. “In recent days, more are turning up and sometimes sourcing food is a challenge,” he said.

Most said deliveries of ration packs and packaged cooked food by BBMP were infrequent.

Bhavya (28), a civil engineer and CW at Subramanyapura, where there are an estimated 1,000 migrant workers, described the majority of food donations as coming from private donors or from kitchens and restaurants contracted by the Department of Labour.

“Many people from north Karnataka or north India won’t accept rice. They want sorghum flour or wheat to make rotis. Often, we don’t have these items,” Ganesh said.

However, the CWs said the work was gratifying. “We usually start at 10 am and finish by 7 pm,” Bhavya said.