COVID Lockdown Crisis: Bengaluru Citizens Rally to Support Assam Migrants

Bengaluru, known as India’s IT Capital, is home to more than 4 million migrants of which North East Indians are believed to constitute 5 lakhs. Among these, Assamese are believed to constitute the largest component. As with migrants everywhere, the crisis brought about by the COVID lockdown has brought much misery to many. Coming as it did most unexpectedly, many, especially those in the unorganized sector had time to take protective measures for financial security. With industries and construction activities coming to a standstill and small enterprises like restaurants and saloons shuttered, many did not receive their salaries. Sadly, rents, electricity charges and food bills still had to be paid and many reached a stage of desperation.

At Bengaluru, the Karnataka government set up a special cell for North East persons. Government officials and police have teamed up with local NGOs and citizen groups to reach out to migrants. Assamese organisations like Assam Society of Bangalore (ASOB), Bangalore Mising Society of Assam (BMSA)and TMPKB, Bangalore Bodo Welfare Association (BBWA), Bengalaru Karbi Society (BKS), Bengalaru Garo Society (BGS), and Bangalore Tiwa Community (BTC) have formed action groups that help get the rations to the most affected in a timely manner.

While volunteers are aplenty, resources are not. Each dry ration kit that would serve a family of 4 for a fortnight and that included rice, dal, oil, sugar, salt and assorted masalas would cost a minimum of Rs 1,000….and there were thousands of needy folks. At this critical phase, Sunbird Trust, a Bangalore registered NGO working primarily in North East India came to the rescue. Deepak Payeng, President of the Bangalore Mising Society of Assam reports that he was amazed that Sunbird Trust actually reached out to the Society enquiring about any help they may require. With that generous offer, BMSA conducted surveys to locate the neediest and calculate the assistance required. Accordingly, tailormade ration kits were made available for distribution by volunteers. Vehicle passes during the curfew were arranged by Sunbird Trust with the kind help of the Bangalore Police. BMSA volunteers then fanned out across the city and the suburbs delivering rations to the doorsteps of the needy. BMSA Vice President Ghano Jimey mentioned that this was not an easy process – community members lived in twos and threes across the city and most volunteers had only motorbikes and scooters, so delivery of hundreds of rations was difficult. There was the issue of ensuring that only the neediest benefitted and that there was no duplication. Till the writing of this article, Sunbird Trust had distributed dry rations for over 12,000 people. Ghano is grateful that BMSA and TMPKB received over 13 tons of rations which was distributed to nearly 2,000 persons of Assamese origin across the city

Sunbird Trust founder and CEO, retired Army Colonel Christopher Rego says that Sunbird Trust, a non-religious and non-denominational organisation, works with a motto of Peace through Education. It seeks to get underprivileged children in remote parts of North East India into the education system. This is achieved through child sponsorships and through helping raise schools and hostels, especially in remote areas. The Trust currently sponsors over 3,300 children out of which over 800 hail from different parts of Assam, mainly Majuli Island. Bipin Dhane, founder of Ayang Trust at Majuli Island mentions that Sunbird Trust is financially supporting many schools on the island with child sponsorships and helping build educational infrastructure.

Sunbird’s team of 18 young professionals all live and work at Sunbird partner institutions in remote villages in North East India. Col Rego mentions that it was only natural that at a time of crisis, the organisation sprung to support the North East Indian diaspora in his own hometown Bengaluru. He is immensely grateful to donors like Prestige Foundation, XLRI Alumni Association, Bangalore Jesuit Educational Society, Akshaya Patra and Life Trust. He says that timely assistance to people so widely dispersed across the city was only possible with excellent teamwork between Sunbird Trust and organisations like BMSA and TMPKB , ASOB, BBWA, BKS, BGS and BTC

Speaking on behalf of BMSA and TMPKB, Ghano expresses the gratitude of the Assamese diaspora of Bengaluru to Sunbird Trust for helping bring relief to thousands of stranded Assamese migrants. He makes a special mention of Sunbird Trust Administator Johnny Joseph for his meticulous coordination. Ghano also mentions the large heartedness of the people of Bangalore and the kind help of the administration and city police.

No one is blessed with a crystal ball to ascertain in which direction the current crisis is headed, but total normalcy seems far away. Regardless it appears that Assamese folks at Bengaluru could expect a helping hand from the city, its residents and local NGOs.

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