May 24, 2020

Maharashtra: Relief by University Teachers during Lockdown

Tapati Mukhopadhyay/Madhu Paranjape

THE rising spread of COVID – 19, has led to extremely critical and challenging time the world over. In India, the confirmed cases have crossed 100,000. In Maharashtra this figure is more than 30,706, with 18,555 in Mumbai alone. Central and state governments have announced various steps to arrest the spread of this pandemic, including a nation-wide lockdown of all activities except essential services. During this crisis, the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) is responding to appeals for relief. Besides Greater Mumbai, the BUCTU is spread over Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. While Mumbai has a huge population of migrant labour, the other districts have significant adivasi population.

In Thane district, the ongoing efforts to mobilise relief in the form of essential grocery and vegetables, including cooking oil, tea powder and soap started in Shahpur taluka. The same is replicated as a model in other districts too. Initially, BUCTU general secretary, Madhu Paranjape, received an appeal from Kalkatte, a contractual teacher in Arts, Science, Commerce College, Khardi  - a village in Shahapur Taluka to support his efforts, along with his students, to help about 180 tribal families, spread in 25 padas in this region. These households live a hand to mouth existence. Their meager economic activity, including selling firewood has stopped due to the present lockdown. Kalkatte informed that he needed monetary help to provide kits of essential grocery and vegetables worth Rs 600 per family. BUCTU unit of RKT college, Ulhasnagar pitched in and collection was made by them for about 70 kits. Provision for another 30 kits was mobilised at the call of BUCTU from individual contributions. Thus, essential grocery and vegetables were provided from efforts of BUCTU to 150 tribal families in the first week of April 2020.

BUCTU leader B M Shikare and few of his colleagues from Nene College, Pen, Raigad responded to an appeal from their ex- students to reach essentials to adivasi families in their neighborhood. On April 2, packets of essential grocery were distributed to 40 families at Adiwasi wadi, Ambeghar village 4 km from Pen, Raigad. Packet included rice, dal, sugar, oil, soap, salt etc.

In Mumbai, the BUCTU office-bearers took a quick decision to extend help to the needy families. The distribution of packets of grocery essentials was carried out by Jadhav and his team in Borivali – Kandivali area, reaching relief to 72 families on April 11, 2020. The construction workers union was overwhelmed by this quick response from BUCTU members that helped them to reach out to migrant workers in other areas, beyond their target.

BUCTU leaders were approached by CITU leader, K Narayanan with an appeal to initiate steps for distribution of ration for nearly 2,000 migrant workers in Bandra. Tapati Mukhopadhyay contacted Hussain Dalwai, MP for his intervention, who then put us in contact with his local activists. Constant coordinated follow-up is on to ensure that the ration is made available at the earliest to the needy.

The BUCTU unit of Dodamarg college (560 km from Mumbai) in Sindhudurg district – a small college with few teachers helped migrant labourers from West Bengal (35) and other parts of Maharashtra (25) stranded in Dodamarg due to lockdown. The BUCTU members mobilised fund and non-teaching staff also contributed. The affected workers were provided essential grocery items.

Another vulnerable section, severely affected is the helpless and dependent elderly living in old-age homes that have stopped receiving donations due to the lockdown. The BUCTU unit in Sant Rawool college, Kudal, Sindhudurg under the leadership of BUCTU senate member, Anant Lokhande and the principal, contributed Rs 25,000 to one such old-age home in Kudal to provide immediate relief.

The BUCTU unit in S H Kelkar College, Devgad made contributions to provide ration to 10 families impoverished due to loss of work and incomes BUCTU president,  G B Raje, along with his colleagues and NSS unit in DBJ College, Chiplun, Ratnagiri district mobilised Rs 12,000 and provided essential grocery items to about 24 impoverished families in Kherdi, Chiplun taluka. Meanwhile, as communicated by Ashok Dhawale, president AIKS that some migrant workers from West Bengal are stranded in Dapoli, Ratnagiri; they were contacted by BUCTU leaders. These workers will require assistance after May 17, 2020. We have approached the teachers in that area who will contribute when required.

The BUCTU as a part of Trade Union Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) is committed to join the combined efforts of trade unions to mobilise funds for providing rations to migrant workers in Mumbai and Bhiwandi (Thane district). The BUCTU leadership has decided that the organisation would contribute for the relief operation in Bhiwandi. Simultaneously, an appeal for contributions is made to BUCTU units in Bhiwandi and Shahpur colleges.

Thus, social commitment of BUCTU is guiding the organisation to take quick decisions with support from its members. The BUCTU is the only teachers’ organisation in the state that has also conveyed its concerns to the education minister through the vice chancellor, regarding the students who are likely to have been affected due to mass displacement/ loss of incomes of families. BUCTU has proposed that the university should not announce any tentative schedule for the examinations; the focus should be on commencement of the academic year 2020-21 when normalcy returns. All students, in all faculties should be allowed to take admission for the next year, pending their examinations and results. This proposal of BUCTU has been widely welcomed by the teachers and students. The present work of BUCTU to lend support to the most vulnerable adversely affected by the present crisis will continue.