HT Salutes: Goa-based volunteer calls for need to check mental health issues in migrant labourers | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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HT Salutes: Goa-based volunteer calls for need to check mental health issues in migrant labourers

Hindustan Times, Panaji | ByGerard de Souza
May 18, 2020 02:11 PM IST

Many migrant labourers needed psychological counselling after the traumatic events of the past few weeks, Dhurv Goswami, a business strategy consultant based in Goa, realised.

Why would a migrant labourer who is being given his daily meals still want to risk his and his family’s life by walking hundreds of kilometres in the scorching sun? Dhurv Goswami, a business strategy consultant based in Goa, wanted to find out.

“Our job does not end at giving rations. We have to check on their mental state,” Goswami said.(Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)
“Our job does not end at giving rations. We have to check on their mental state,” Goswami said.(Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)

Volunteering with the Goa Covid-19 Outreach, a network of volunteers that provides food relief to around 4,000 stranded migrant labourers in the state, Goswami got talking to some and realised that distributing ration was not of enough help. Many needed psychological counselling after the traumatic events of the past few weeks, he realised.

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Around the world, mental health experts are beginning to see the effects of what they are referring to as quarantine fatigue. According to them, people with existing mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, are prone to face an even deeper trauma on account of the lockdown and its socio-economic implications.

Also read: Visually impaired civic staffer builds volunteer network

“So many of them were asked to vacate their premises, their water connections were cut off. In some cases, the landlords removed tiles from their roofs to force them out of their rooms. A lot of them were subjected to humiliation before they ended up hitting the streets to return home,” Goswami said.

Goswami recalled a conversation with a migrant worker, in particular. “After talking for some time he eased up a bit and started saying that people are getting very restless and if the situation is allowed to continue people will start killing themselves. Then as the conversations continued, he stopped speaking in general terms, and we realised that he was talking about himself.”

“I realised that there will be more people like him and that our job does not end at giving rations. We have to check on their mental state,” Goswami said.

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With the help of Caritas Goa, a church-run charity, a few trained counsellors began to reach out to the migrant workers. “Several people came forward to talk their heart out and explained their issues,” Goswami said.

“A lot of the workers I spoke to talked of the frustration of not being allowed to travel home and even speaking of willingness to walk home all the way to MP (Madhya Pradesh). I tried to reassure them that the government was working on some plans but even I couldn’t say so confidently,” Divya Raphael, one of the counsellors, said.

Around 51 workers came forward to speak to counsellors, who visited them in the hutments where they lived — mostly around construction sites in Alto Betim and Ramnagar, Pilerne on the outskirts of Panjim — during the second and third week of the lockdown. One of the primary grouses was not being allowed to go home.

“Nobody is happy to be getting free food, nobody is happy to be standing in line. People are leaving their homes and coming to work just to get by. They are not at all proud to get ration for free. Dignity is very important and it is very humiliating for them to come out and stand in line to receive free food. Everyone wants to earn their money with dignity. They are lining up for government help because they are helpless,” he added.

To address their economic distress, the volunteer group has further created a database of the workers on their website.

“I started by delivering rations for around 200 migrant labourers who were building the new high court complex opposite the Secretariat and were left abandoned by the contractor. The idea to do some relief work and then let the government take over,” said Miriam Koshy, an artist and former business student, who started the volunteer network.

However, as the scale of the operations grew, the volunteers realised that their database could be put to better use. “Now that the lockdown is partially lifted and the monsoon is approaching, many people are looking to repair the roofs of their houses or are looking to grow their own food or even doing rainwater harvesting. So our idea was to connect the labourers to the community,” she explained.

In Goa, which is a Covid-19 green zone, industries have reopened, including pharmaceutical companies and manufacturing units. But in the absence of public transportation, full-scale economic activity is yet to start. Three Shramik Special trains — two to Udhampur (Jammu) and one to Gwalior (MP) — have already departed ferrying 2,000 migrant labourers; around 80,000 migrant labourers have registered with the state government to be allowed to travel home.

“If they are away from home, they are unable to help those who are at home because they are not earning anything. If they were back home, at least they would have fields to work on. Many have aged or ailing parents. Nobody knows when the crisis is going to end,” Goswami said.

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