Over the years, Mittal Patel has been helping nomadic tribes in Gujarat. But, after the lockdown, she has not just helped them with the paperwork, she has also been distributing dry ration to them
Over the years, Mittal Patel, the founder of Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch, an NGO based in Ahmedabad, has been working towards empowering the nomadic and de-notified communities in Gujarat.
From 2005, she has helped over one lakh families belonging to these marginalised communities by making them aware of their rights. She has helped in the issuance of 10,000 above the poverty level (APL), below the poverty level (BPL) and Antyodaya cards, which has helped them avail the benefits of various government schemes meant for them.
But, after the nationwide lockdown was announced, Mittal and her team have not just helped these people with the paperwork, but they also have been distributing ration and cooked meal to these Adivasis.
Mittal said: “After the lockdown was announced, we have helped many of them open their Jan Dhan accounts so that they get the government benefits. There were a few who didn’t have access. We are helping them too. We have prepared a comprehensive list and shortlisted the most marginalised families. We will make sure that they don’t miss out.”
She added: “During the first phase of the lockdown, we tried to connect these people with NGOs and government bodies, so that they may get direct help. But we started distributing dry ration as soon as the lockdown was extended.” She has, so far, helped around 25,000 families indirectly by connecting them to the government bodies and NGOs in the state.
“For many, this lockdown is like a holiday. People are preparing different kinds of cuisines. And there are these people who don’t even know if they will get to eat the next meal. We have distributed dry ration kits to over 3,000 nomadic families ever since the lockdown was extended,” she said.
After the lockdown was first announced, the Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani, had announced that around 60 lakh ration card-holding families — 3.25 crore individuals — will get ration, including 3.5 kg wheat and 1.5 kg rice per person, and 1 kg of pulses, sugar and salt. Lauding the efforts of the Gujarat government, Mittal said: “The government has done a commendable job. All those were in the BPL list were given ration. Those were not in the list were given ration kits too.”
She, however, added: “The kits provided by the government contain wheat, rice, pulses and sugar. They don’t have oil or spices. Now, how would they cook if they won’t have oil and spices? Many of them told us that they need chillies, cooking oil, and other spices. So, we started providing kits which had chillies and oil. Besides that, we are also giving potatoes, mug chana, pulses, coriander powder, garlic and onions,” said Mittal.
The kits, which costs Mittal Rs 700, are meant for a family of 3-4 and last for 10 days.
The kits that the government gives contains 15 kg of wheat, which won’t even last for a month, said Mittal.
She, however, feels it’s pointless to give cooked meals.
“There are people who have been distributing khichari to the needy. There will come a time when they will refuse to eat it. People in Adivasi areas mostly eat rice, so they won’t mind eating this daily. But for many, rice is not a preferred choice. Many eat bajra ki roti and wheat chappatti. Some people called me saying they wanted to help. So, I told them about some people who needed food. But they called me back saying those people had refused the help. It was then that I realised that there are people who can’t eat rice every day.”
She said even we can’t eat the same kind of food every day. Everyone needs variety, even if they are dependent. “Yes, they are doing a good job by distributing meals. But they should be providing dry ration instead so that they can cook whatever they want. Many packets of cooked meal get wasted. Dry ration can be stored for a longer duration,” she said.