Characteristically the lockdown has arrived again suddenly and we are not sure if we are prepared with the lessons we learnt through last year. As R.K. Lakhi Kant recalls some of the difficulties faced in the first wave last year along with Nonibala Narengbam, Convenor of Women in Governance – (WinG), a women’s advocacy group, the urgent hope is that various agencies, most importantly the state government, will make the rough ride we are all preparing for much easier and fair in the form of relief aids especially for the poor.
Lakhi Kant: The pandemic and lockdowns have returned again. What can the common people expect this time around?
Nonibala Narengbam: We from our side helped in the pandemic last year. The urban context and the rural context are different as we had discussed earlier also; but either way from the government’s side no package has been announced this time for those who can’t earn. The reality is that families are suffering and they are saying that ‘with or without aid for Covid we’ll be dying anyway’. We never thought about their mental health also, but it is a recurring problem now during Covid.
The pressure is on many families, especially those with children. Last time we came with relief for at least a thousand families. Our packages during the lockdown made sure they could get more than a hand to mouth existence. Most families have their own gardens in the villages so they could maintain themselves. Then in the rural areas there’s a support system for rice and that helps them immensely.
Lakhi Kant: Do you see people suffer without protesting and left to their fate?
Nonibala Narengbam: We have told them a lot about advocacy and they have been able to voice out. We also helped them in capacity building. People were told last time that if they didn’t have their BJP card, they wouldn’t be given their rice. This is divisive and politicization. But in some places people did get their shares properly, and in fact even more than the allotted amount. In Thoubal last time there was an overflow of relief materials.
People are no more silent spectators nowadays. This time also we are looking forward to packages. It’s not only rice but the requirement is of other basic essential needs which the government should recognize. It’s a pandemic and we shouldn’t stop from giving with that understanding in mind.
Last time Paonam Brojen from Wangjing Tentha kendra put stickers on the relief materials asking for votes. We took up the matter in a PIL filed by us. This time the situation is as bad as earlier and we hope the government will start distributing relief soon.
Lakhi Kant: Are the urban slums neglected, or we can hope to get some attention at these spots?
Nonibala Narengbam: Urban slum areas have not been specified but taking the fringe urban communities we have the drugs users, female sex workers etc. I don’t work for drugs users but there is concern how these communities must be surviving. Urban people usually survive on their business and there’s no give and take between urban sections as in the rural places.
We notice the small hotels at Waheng Leikai and then the small vendors in the keithel area. There’s urgent concern for them also. Women mostly are the providers in such households and there’s domestic violence due to the disruption caused by the pandemic. We intervened in at least five cases of domestic violence last year. Offices are also closed and so urban community is affected by the problem of accessibility in the urban context. It’s commonly known that due to restrictions on going out of the house violence does take place. Some of the cases were taken up by us with the women’s commission. It’s an international phenomenon and needs to be contested strongly.
Lakhi Kant: Is there requirement of supplementary nutrition or not in the state?
Nonibala Narengbam: Supplementary nutrition is very much in need. Manipur state has the SABLA scheme for adolescent girls and the ICDS through their resources provides nutrition at the leikais with the help of anganwadis for pregnant and lactating mothers. But even a casual ground survey shows that 70-80% do not get this nutrition, the women themselves say. Under the Health Mission also they are supposed to get Iron Folic tablets, other medicine, and foods but they are not getting these. The schemes are in place but the actual goods are not being delivered by the government.
Lakhi Kant: What are the essential programs for women and children offered in the state and how is the performance?
Nonibala Narengbam: The main programs are under the National Food Security Act where the women during pregnancy must get nutrition. Under the ICDS, children who are 3-6 years are put in the ‘learning by playing’ program. Also, under the Right to Education children from Class 1-8 are supposed to get free and compulsory education. But mostly the children in the 3-6 years category are not getting any of the designated benefits. For instance, rice; only the signatures are taken but the actual quantity given away is only 50% of the allotted amount. Also, the actual beneficiaries under the ICDS are neglected.
However, there are some good workers also who do some good personally for the children, like adding a few vegetables for the children from their own gardens.
Lakhi Kant: What are the main areas you have addressed?
Nonibala Narengbam: We focus on community-based organizations like anganwadis, ASHA workers etc. We try to strengthen them with capacity building and community, leikai and village-based involvement of stakeholders. We are into child rights also and provide psycho-social support, intervention in physical and mental harassment of children, and legal rights for victims of child abuse. We do not directly deal with adoption but with CARA, SAA and special adoption groups we do act as a link for children of pandemic victims and other children who are up for adoption.
Lakhi Kant: What have you done since the beginning of this year for the economic security and livelihood of local women?
Nonibala Narengbam: As members of an advocating organization, we have taken up work for women at a level we can help them. We couldn’t do direct intervention due to paucity of international funds since last year, but we have given a helping hand to many women. In projects like weaving, we sent their products to the market. We have been providing market linkage locally and outside the state also. We cannot buy their products but as facilitators we have helped in selling their products made from kouna, cane and bamboo, weaving, and processed fruits products.
It was an ongoing process with market linkage, including online. But there’s no movement now after the sudden lockdown as the women cannot meet the demand for goods. We are considering now how we can contribute during the second wave. These are all private individual groups and are not supported. One of our friends, a producer, had started sending cane goods to Bangalore, and processed food to Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh this year only, but now her livelihood has been blocked. Usually they also send dry fruits, heikru, heining, mange, heinou, fruit candies and spicy fruit mixtures which sell well in other states. The pandemic is back, we are hoping for the best though.