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Amid disease scourge, Dharavi’s residents struggle to fight hunger

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 06-05-2020 Ankita Bhatkhande

Mumbai: Besieged by Covid-19 infections, financially struck low by the lockdown and turned a containment zone, the people of Asia's largest slum are now struggling to keep hunger at bay.

Home to at least quarter of a million residents across communities, Dharavi -- spread across around 240 hectares of south-central Mumbai -- houses thousands of small-scale businesses and entrepreneurs from pottery to tailoring units, bakeries and leather goods makers. Within a month of recording its first case on April 1, the number of positive cases had increased to 407; by May 6 the total number of cases in Dharavi was 733, with 21 deaths reported.

In the face of such adversity, a group of 10 young men -- all residents of Dharavi's Rajiv Gandhi Nagar -- are trying to make sure that people do not go hungry. The group, which calls itself Dharavi Boys over social media platforms, consists of college students who pooled money to support a handful of families in dire need of food. Soon, donations began to pour in through their extended networks of friends, and two days ago, they set up a Feed Dharavi campaign on crowdfunding site, Ketto. Till date, they have been able to support at least 100 families. They have their own Twitter handle: @DharaviBoys, with 13 followers at present. Their feed, however, is replete with messages of thanks to those who have donated money for their initiative.

On May 1, the day they set up the account, they tweeted:

"The lockdown has been extended. For us, the news is clear: more days without work and food. We want YOU to reach out to the people of Dharavi. Please help our families with at least basic food supplies. #dharavi #mumbai #india #COVID19 #corona #coronavirusindia"

Stanley Anto, a social worker based in Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai, offered support to the group; within a day of setting up the account on Twitter, they also released a poster: "For as little as Rs. 1720, you can help us provide at least a month's supply of food rations to a needy family. Please reach out to us if you can help!"

Less than a week old, the feed regularly posts the contributions it has received, as well as the food rations it has distributed till now. A family living in the United States contributed Rs 40,000; another young boy in Pune broke his piggy bank to donate a sum.

"We began this #feedDharavi campaign because when we saw families around us struggling, we just couldn't sit back and watch. With the little we had, we only managed to feed a few.And we thought that it would be the end of our efforts. Then, Stanley sir came to our aid and helped us feed more families. And just like us, he wasn't satisfied. So, he roped in his friends and family and together, we fed a few more," their twitter feed read on May 4.

"Almost all people in these slums are daily wage earners and not going to work for so long means they have absolutely no money and hence cannot buy food. As young students, we thought of doing something for people from our own locality and hence decided to pool some resources," said Vikas Jaiswar, a 24-year-old who graduated with an engineering degree from a Navi Mumbai college last year.

The group, which claims to not belong to any political or religious organisation but a "informal group of youngsters" called the Friendly Life Youth Group, has tied up with local traders who arrange for the supplies which includes rice, flour, oil, salt and sugar.

However, as the cases rise, the young men are also facing several difficulties in their work. "A couple from our locality who was providing similar help caught the virus and they are in the hospital. We are all very scared when we go out but we take adequate precautions and use masks, sanitisers and gloves in the whole process," Jaiswar added.

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