Update Dec 11th, 2020 – As the farmer protests continue to rage at the Delhi border, we hear farmers from across the country rising in solidarity in this fight against inequality and poverty produced by neoliberal policies.
“We are not in Delhi but it does not mean that we are not with the movement“.
Farmers explain why the freedom to sell their produce anywhere is not helpful, they need the purchases to be made locally because they cannot afford transportation. They need better prices for their crops, and guaranteed minimum prices, to sustain themselves. Their own children are not able to continue with farming because farming alone does not help make enough money for the entire family, and they are forced to migrate to the cities for work, but even that work is exploitative and not remunerative.
This is truly a fight against unconstrained inequality through the cooperation of the state.
Update Nov 16th, 2020 – Our partner PCI (Project Concern International) has written a great description of our work with JEEViKA (Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society) during the lockdown. JEEViKA and PCI have been amazing partners in leveraging our platforms to provide COVID-19 related awareness among SHG (Self Help Group) members, and also to provide employment support to migrant workers who came back during the lockdown.
Update Nov 11th, 2020 – We concluded our analysis of the post-lockdown working conditions among industrial sector workers. The findings are sobering, and put together with the changes in the labour code, it looks like we are headed towards an institutionalization of inequality and exploitation in India. The Indian state must change its priorities to impose fairer wage standards, ensure compliance of better working conditions, and improve access to social protection.
Read our article: The post-Lockdown State of Labour: Heading Towards an Institutionalization of Exploitation and Inequality The survey has also been covered by the New Indian Express and The Federal.
Some key points are as follows:
- Companies seem to be in free-fall. In India, and even according to international reports from other countries, sectors like garments have been significantly hit. As a result, work availability has gone down.
- Of the 362 workers who took the survey, 60% reported that they are out of work. Those who are working, report that they are getting erratic work for 3-4 days in a week only and are staring at job insecurity.
- Consequently, earnings have reduced, while at the same time the workload has increased. More work is being demanded from fewer people.
- Whether this is because companies are struggling to meet their bottomline, or because they are using this opportunity of a widely apparent downturn to increase their margins, irrespective of the reasons it is the workers who are getting squeezed even more.
- Overtime compliance remains poor and there is a big shift towards piece-rate work from regular salary based employment.
- Due to immensely discouraging experience with being able to access social security like PF and ESI, workers are losing faith in the social security system. Many workers are preferring to work on piece-rate with cash payments, foregoing PF and ESI contributions, so that they get more cash in hand on an immediate basis. Many companies also seem to be preferring this, possibly because it reduces their costs and compliance overhead too.
- Due to these worsening working conditions, many workers who had come back from their home villages and towns in rural areas, are now going back. Work seems to be harsher and more mercenary than before, social security remains a myth, the laws and bureaucratic procedures offer little protection or redress, and other work and income options also remain elusive. The new labour code it seems will make protection against exploitation more elusive, collective bargaining more difficult, and worker-employer relationships more commoditified. The unconscionable treatment received by migrant workers when the lockdown was imposed, the shaky ability of the state to provide reasonable social protection, and continued apathy towards the rights of workers, points towards an inclination of the state to embrace economic growth at the cost of ensuring better wage standards and holding the industry accountable to meet its obligations towards better working conditions.
An updated version of the survey report containing data from Tamil Nadu is available here.
Update Nov 5th, 2020 – We made a presentation at the PULSE for Development research group, coordinated by the Center for Policy Research, about the data gathered from our surveys and voice platforms on food and nutrition security during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. See our presentation here. We spoke about the problems faced by people in accessing Aanganwadi and Mid-Day meals, the Public Distribution System, and health services, since when the national lockdown was announced and the extent to which these services have resumed.
This also highlights many issues we spoke about in our #NotStatusQuo campaign [hindi version].
Update Oct 20th, 2020 – Surveys were done on our Tamil Nadu platforms to understand the disruption in access to sanitary napkins for adolescent girls, and ANC/PNC visits and nutrition supplements for pregnant women. All these services were several disrupted during the COVID-19 lockdown, and are now slowly being resumed. Read the report to know more.
Update Oct 10, 2020 – We are excited to announce that Gram Vaani, in collaboration with Dvara Research, University of Montreal, and Tika Vaani has been selected for the Azim Premji University COVID-19 Research Funding Programme 2020, to conduct action-research on designing better grievance redressal in social welfare schemes. This will help push our work forward emerging from the #NotStatusQuo campaign.
We are also winners in the World Bank’s Digital ID challenge, where we pitched in collaboration with Dvara Research to build a well-organized database of grievances to do with access to social protection. Watch our pitch here. The grievances will be sourced through our Mobile Vaani platforms and will help understand the reasons for exclusion, so that appropriate policy changes can then be proposed. More details.
We are finalists in the CGIAR 2020 Inspire Challenge, for our proposed FarmPhone solution to bring together producers, agricultural laborers, processors, traders, transporters, and resident associations, to enable transparent and connected fair trade. In collaboration with Magasool and ICARDA, watch our pitch here.
We are proud at having been shortlisted as a finalist for the Agami 2020 Shamnad Basheer Citizenship Prize, together with Aajeevika Bureau, IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access), and IIF (Internet Freedom Foundation). According to the Agami team, our work scored highly in terms of the level of innovation, the scale of impact, the strength of the team and the sustainability of the model.
We are winners in the Ayusman Bharat PMJAY startup grand challenge for 2020. The award was given for our Mobile Vaani platform to create awareness, drive healthcare demand and monitor services throughout the continuum of care.
Update Sep 30, 2020 – During these times of high unemployment and a weak economy, NREGA is critical for two reasons: as the sole income source for many vulnerable rural households, and if improved and made more efficient then as a way to move labour markets in favour of migrant workers. We provide a ground-up view of the challenges in NREGA operations based on our recent experiences and describe how the tumultuous lives of migrant workers can be made less precarious through well-functioning and better-funded social protection mechanisms.
Read our article: NREGA as social protection and beyond: A shot at dignity of workers, by Vani Visvanathan, Sultan Ahmad, and Aaditeshwar Seth. And a shorter version published by IDR: How has NREGA fared during lockdown?
The detailed results from our work in NREGA are here. Some top-level highlights:
- Not everybody who applies for a job-card is able to get one. Only about 60-65% of job-card applicants we worked with, received their job-cards.
- About 90% of them received their job-cards within 3 weeks.
- However, only 50% of those who applied for work were able to get it. Another 30% got work but only for 10 days.
- Those who did work, 56% received their payments within 10 days, and another 22% within 3 weeks. The remaining 22% had not received their wages even after a month.
- There is in general a lack of awareness among workers on the formal means to demand work. The government has established positions of Rozgar Sewaks for this purpose, to hand-hold people to get job-cards and register for work, but many Sewaks remain absent. A fortnightly organization of the Rozgar Diwas is also not done regularly.
- Group based registration, work demand, and grievance redressal drives, like through the Rozgar Diwas and assisted by Rozgar Sewaks, can be instrumental in helping more people access MGNREGA. Such initiatives should be rigorously imposed, and extended to other welfare schemes as well.
- Several other issues hamper MGNREGA as well. The availability of funds at the local funds, corruption through the use of machines and ghost-workers concealed by middlemen, and DBT issues with Aadhaar linkage, dampen the impact that MGNREGA can have, especially during current times when unemployment is high and migrant workers need to find work closer to home.
Update Sep 25, 2020 – Here are two nice articles on CHIRAG Vaani, running in the Chakai block of the Jamui district in Bihar. In partnership with PRADAN, our ambition is to grow this more widely in the Santhal Parganas:
- Short audio clips help students learn in rural Bihar, in Tehelka
- How interactive audio helped migrants during lockdown, in VillageSquare
Another nice article about the wonderful work being done by Slam Out Loud on creative story telling, poetry and theater. Slam Out Loud is also using our IVR platforms to reach those cut off due to the digital divide.
Update Sep 15, 2020 – We conducted a third round of community surveys on the Mobile Vaani network in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, this time with a greater focus on child nutrition security through the mid-day meal and Anganwadi services. A summary of results from Bihar is below. Other states did not fare much better. The poor state of services delivery stands the risk of reversing the gains made in nutrition over the last several years. Links to our earlier rounds of community surveys are here: Round #1 – April 2020, Round #2 – June 2020.
- 68% respondents have not received dry rations or any monetary assistance in lieu of mid day meals in schools.
- Of those who received some benefits, 80% have received a monthly ration kit comprising of only wheat and rice, while only 9% received dry ration along with cost for cooking, and another 11% received cash transfers in lieu of mid day meals.
- Of those who received some benefits, 64% respondents were satisfied by the quantity and quality of rations and the amount of money received in lieu of mid day meals. 31% however were not satisfied and they found the quantity of ration or the amount provided to be less.
- Of those who did not receive any assistance, 76% parents say that they are finding it hard to provide good quality food to their children and are managing somehow, while 17% are unable to provide good quality food.
- 77% of the respondents who have children enrolled in Aanganwadi centers have not received any provisions from the centers.
- Of those who have received assistance, 80% found distributed ration to be of good quality while 15% said that the quantity was not enough.
- Of those who did not receive any assistance from Aanganwadi centers, 85% respondents say that they are managing somehow with whatever food that is available at home. 10% are unable to provide good quality food to their children.
- As far as agriculture land, kitchen garden or availability of livestock is concerned, 79% respondents do not have any of these which can help them in managing nutritious food for the household.
- At times, family members including children even had to skip meals or cut down on the food amounts because of affordability reasons. 47% respondents said that they faced this situation.
Update Aug 31, 2020 – Throughout the lockdown, and thereon, we have been engaged in running several campaigns in our communities. Here is a short note that summarizes our work so far, and a short articulation of our manifesto that drives us for all this work.
Update Aug 20, 2020 – We have a fantastic collaboration in progress with the social protection team at Dvara Research, to build case-studies based on a detailed analysis of the challenges faced by people in accessing welfare benefits. A dedicated web-page at Dvara explains the exclusion framework against which we are positioning these case-studies, all of which were identified through voice-reports on Mobile Vaani. These detailed case-studies help tell a story of the struggle that citizens face in dealing with the state to access benefits which they should rightfully get. Many of these issues also arise due to the use of opaque technology systems that do not have well defined processes to deal with failures.
- Exclusion from PM-KISAN due to problems with correcting beneficiary records – almost 1.5 years have passed, several trips were made to different government offices, money paid for services that should have been free, over Rs 1000 spent but benefits foregone are of the order of Rs 10,000
- Case of banking frauds by agents that resulted in people not being able to avail welfare benefits – a consequence of opaque technology and poor financial literacy, calling for a slower push of digital financial services
- A PM-KISAN account incorrectly linked to somebody else’s bank account led to three tranches of payments going to the wrong beneficiary. The legitimate beneficiary has now opened a new bank account and is waiting to see if at least the new payments come through.
- Cash transfers announced to welfare board registrants never made their way to many beneficiaries. A general lack of understanding of the expected procedure and ad hoc actions to make transfers in bulk leaves many people excluded from getting the benefits.
- An unexplained problems with getting enrolled under PM-KISAN: With the same set of documents and the same procedure, it failed twice and then succeeded.
- Procedural problems with getting a ration card: Providing documents and paying middlemen was of no benefit until the problem was escalated to higher officials.
Update Aug 19, 2020 – Linking to some really insightful articles from our Hindi journalism team:
- Problems people face in getting ration – protests against corrupt ration dealers who took biometrics for two months but disbursed benefits for just one month, denial of benefits to senior citizens because they do not have Aadhaar, people going hungry while the godowns are overflowing gives India rank 103 in the Hunger Index.
- Nutrition security issues created due to a disruption in the mid-day meals and Aanganwadi provisions – ranging between 68% to 77% of school or Aanganwadi going children have not received any cooked meals, or take-home ration, or the equivalent cash transfers [published at Junpath]
- Problems related to availing Ujjawala scheme benefits – with no feedback on application status, pending payments, and lack of clarity on grievance redressal procedures, people are still using traditional fuels for cooking [published at Junpath]
- Problems that people are facing due to floods in Bihar – with roads disappearing, crops destroyed, livestock either dead or being sold away in distress, and significant problems of access to drinking water. [published at Junpath]
- With schools closed and mid-day meals not available for children, concerns rise on child malnutrition. Alternatives with take home ration or cash transfers to families, do not seem to be working well. [published at Junpath]
- Issues faced by disabled people in access to ration, pension, smartphones for education, and all because they are not a vote bank as yet? [published in Junpath]
- Problems with access to ration still remains, new ration cards are not operational as yet, protests against ration dealers happen every other day, where are all the grains disappearing? [Published in Junpath]
- So much need for MNREGA but people face problems in getting job-cards, they need assistance in demanding for work, and in following-up for their full payments. [published in Junpath]
- How can online education succeed with problems in Internet access, inability of people to afford smartphones, and especially when many parents are out of work? [published in Junpath]
Update Aug 15, 2020 – Our #NotStatusQuo campaign for improvements in the delivery of social protection measures, is now in its final stages. We ran it throughout June and July to seek feedback from researchers, activists, and development sector professionals, and a final report is now online [hindi version]. A Google doc version is editable, and we welcome any comments to strengthen this further.
The campaign draws attention to solving several issues with the public distribution system, direct benefit transfers, banking channels, G2C communication systems, documentation of workers especially for social security, and access to public schemes and services by inter-state migrant workers. Many of these solutions are easily achievable through technological fixes in the design of the IT (Information Technology) infrastructure to access social protection measures, and draws attention to the need for more careful design of technology so that it can truly empower the beneficiaries and citizens it aims to benefit.
IDR has also published an article – Our Welfare System is Broken – which summarizes some of the key points under the #NotStatusQuo campaign. Sadhika Tiwari from India Spend has written about informalization in the workforce, brought out by our surveys. Another article – Technologies of Disempowerment – about how many technology systems for welfare delivery and social security have ended up disempowering many people, has been published in the Civil Society and ACM Interactions.
Update Aug 12, 2020 – Posting some long overdue updates. We are running several campaigns and detailed reports will follow soon.
- We are supporting communities in 18+ panchayats in Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, and UP, to get MNREGA job cards and register their demand for work. We have helped organize several Rozgar Diwas and more than 400 people who were unable to get MNREGA work, are working now. Read our article in Junpath about the realities on the ground, and how young volunteers are assisting people to get MNREGA work.
- In Tamil Nadu, we are engaged in a very active campaign for resumption of meals for children via the Anganwadi centers and the Mid-day meal scheme. Disruption in these routine child health and nutrition services are having a dire effect on children – since almost five months many children have been deprived of their rations.
- In partnership with the Tamil Nadu Labour Rights Federation (TRLF), we ran several campaigns to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown: Registration of unorganized workers in the welfare boards and facilitate cash transfers to them of Rs. 1000, resumption of Grama Sabhas to restart public services, and to close TASMAC liquor outlets since alcoholism is leading to an increase in domestic violence. A report is available here.
A case-study about our work during the lockdown has been published by the Hygiene Hub coordinated by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
An article about the challenges that children are facing with online education in rural areas, has been published at Junpath.
An article about challenges faced by disabled people has also been published at Junpath.
We also recently concluded the #verified campaign with the United Nations, coordinated by purpose.com, on preventing misinformation. Do watch the video here and the tweet on the UN official handle acknowledging our work.
Update Jul 20, 2020 – The Tika Vaani team did a rigorous content analysis of almost 7000 voice-recordings of SOS issues that users raised on Mobile Vaani during the lockdown. A policy brief emerging from that exercise is now available: The First 100 Days – How has COVID-19 Affected Poor and Vulnerable Groups in India [Hindi version]. We welcome collaborations to further analyze the data, or continue the analysis to track post-lockdown issues.
Update Jul 19, 2020 – During the lockdown when regular health services were severely disrupted, we publicized several tele-consultation helplines run by our partners. These included a helpline to seek advise on general medical ailments (non-COVID-19), a helpline to discuss antenatal and postnatal care, and a helpline on mental health (non-medical) issues. We got a surprisingly low engagement from our users and we spoke to a few of them to understand the reasons. People cited a lack of trust in talking to doctors remotely. The novelty was also a deterrent and people did not understand the concept. Their motivation to seek advice was also low, they were mostly concerned with more serious ailments that might require hospitalization. Read more in our short report. This experience clearly reinforced something we learned the hard way a long time back, that there are no shortcuts in development — greater engagement with the users, explaining new concepts to them, and supporting them to take risks, is what works. A more successful intervention on mental health in Gujarat was executed in a community based manner, by the Center for Mental Health Law and Policy. Their explanation is: “The strength of this model lies in its use of social capital”.
An updated summary of our COVID-19 response is also available here.
Update Jun 19, 2020 – Results from our second round of community surveys are now available, conducted on June 14th and 15th, with responses from 702 ration card holders across Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and MP. The surveys point towards grave issues arising for nutrition and food security, especially for children. State-wise results are here.
- Only 57% of ration card holders received the committed double rations, i.e. extra 5 kg of grain (wheat or rice) during the lockdown. Only 49% received 1 kg of daal during the period.
- The quality of food grains provided during the months of April and May was good or fair accordingly to 57% of the people, while 30% found the quality to be poor.
- Of those who have young children, 77% did not receive any food items or cash from the Aanganwadi centers during the lockdown.
- 69% of school going children did not receive any food items or cash as committed for the mid day meal scheme. Curfew-like restrictions during the lockdown, the unavailability of teachers for distributing food items to home, and problems with procurement of food grains, were some of the main reasons behind the non-implementation of this scheme.
- Financial support of Rs 1000 committed to ration card holders under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana did not reach 48% of the people. Lack of cooperation from officials, and problems with fixing Aadhar and bank linkage errors were the main factors that led to gaps in the implementation.
- 48% ration card holders did not have names of all the family members included in their respective ration cards. Lack of cooperation of officials was cited as the foremost reason, along with lack of information, in getting a new ration card issued or for adding a family member’s name in existing ration cards.
Update Jun 16, 2020 — A few reports on specific initiatives.
Lockdown chronicle, as observed through Saajha Manch, our platform for industrial workers. Many of these workers are inter-state migrants and the report outlines their experiences from the time factories started closing up, and workers were left unpaid and stranded, harassed by landlords, and forgotten by governments. Compelled to travel back home, many are now uncertain of whether they want to come back, but as work resumes at a diminished capacity and confused manner, the big question still looms of whether or not this event will finally reverse the power dynamics in favour of the workers or not?
An additional report also about migrant workers, on our work with several volunteer groups who assisted the workers. The report provides a good peek into the complexity of the stranded migrant workers’ transport situation, and also the need for urgent data collection efforts for advocacy to inform and persuade the administration for appropriate action.
Finally, back in the rural areas, food and work problems persist with people having had no income for over two months. Many ration card registrations are still pending, and MNREGA work has not started in a big way either. In support of the Right to Food campaign for granting ration and work, Mobile Vaani volunteers have delivered demand letters to 300 panchayats to build bottom-up pressure so that food distribution and work allocation is speeded up. We have already seen some initial impact stories, but the advocacy needs to reach the administration.
Update Jun 1, 2020 — Our campaign titled #NotStatusQuo is well underway. The spread of the pandemic, and ensuing hardships because of the lockdown, revealed many gaps in the delivery of public services and social security schemes that hindered access to various relief measures announced by the central and state governments. These gaps in the delivery of rights and entitlements had always existed though, and only manifested themselves during the lockdown. Indeed, many ad hoc systems have been put in place to improve access to the relief measures and the #NotStatusQuo campaign is aimed at drawing attention to systemizing these temporary systems to improve the infrastructure for social security and welfare delivery in India. Our campaign specifically draws attention to solving several issues with the public distribution system, direct benefit transfers, banking channels, documentation of workers especially for social security, access to public schemes and services by inter-state migrant workers, and governance decentralization. Participate on Twitter or Facebook, or directly look at our suggestions on these links and comment. You can also email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org too.
IDR has published our article which summarizes some of the key points under the #NotStatusQuo campaign. Sadhika Tiwari from India Spend has written about informalization in the workforce, brought out by our surveys.
Update May 29, 2020 — Results from our twinned surveys of 383 migrant workers and 657 resident workers, are now available. The findings present a clear picture of worker invisibility in social security schemes, that led to much hardship for both migrant and resident workers, across all sectors of work. Very few are considering coming back to the cities for work any time soon, and it remains an open question of how the surplus labour in rural areas will find sufficient work. An article based on the surveys has been published here, and the survey has also been used in Dvara’s COVID-19 Impact on Daily Life (CIDL) Survey.
Migrant workers survey done in 3 phases, during lockdown #2, #3, #4:
- Migrant workers are engaged mostly in factory work, or as daily wage labourers in construction or agricultural work. Overall, only 20% reported being registered under any welfare boards, PF, or ESI like social security schemes. Clearly most migrant workers are invisible.
- As a result of this invisibility, between 60-70% workers have reported not having received any cash transfer support from the state or central governments. With 85% reporting not having had any income at all through the lockdown, about 30% had to borrow money from others and 8% had to sell their assets for cash.
- 62% of those in wage work did not get any help from their employers either.
- Stranded without food or cash, around 50% have wanted or tried going back home. Even with the Shramik Special trains, 80% have either walked back, cycled, or hitched rides on trucks, under precarious conditions.
- Of those who reached their native places safely, only about 28% have stayed in the quarantine centres, the rest have self-quarantined at home. 63% of those staying in the quarantine centres report that these centres were unclean or irregular on food timings.
- A significant fraction report having faced some kind of discrimination, both at their place of work and upon coming back home. More than 55% of returned migrants plan to engage in agriculture related work, and only 10% show any inclination of going back to the cities for work any time soon. With factories having resumed at diminished capacity and only employing permanent workers, work is likely to be scarce in the cities. It remains a question if at home, agriculture or MNREGA or other works can absorb this surplus labour.
Resident workers survey done in 3 phases, during lockdown #2, #3, #4:
- Resident workers are engaged mostly as daily wage labourers in construction or agricultural work. Overall, only 15% reported being registered under any welfare boards, PF, or ESI like social security schemes. Clearly most resident workers are invisible, including many street vendors and daily wage workers.
- As a result of this invisibility, 66% workers reported not having received any cash transfer support from the state or central governments. With close to 85% reporting not having had any income at all throughout the lockdown, about 32% had to borrow money from others and 15% had to sell their assets to get cash.
- Of those in wage work, 60% did not get any help from their employers or contractors either.
- 66% have still not been able to resume their work, and this is true for people in all categories of work including self-employment, daily wage labour, factory work, street vendors, etc.
- Most of them hope to start work again in farming or agricultural labour, or MNREGA like non-agricultural work. Only 8.7% show any inclination of going to cities for work.
- 32% reported that MGNREGA work has still not started in their areas despite governments announcing that returned migrant labourers will be provided work promptly. Whether the rural economy will be able to absorb surplus labour because of many returned migrant workers is an important open question. Around 42% believe that agriculture related work will not be sufficient enough to absorb the surplus labour force, and 50% believe that wages will get suppressed as well.
- While the most significant concern on people’s mind is related to employment, they are also concerned about household level stress and tension, and the lack of space in the house, with more people at home now.
Update May 23, 2020 — A newsletter summarizing our COVID-19 related efforts and learning so far.
Update May 14, 2020 — An article we wrote – Technologies of Disempowerment – about how many technology systems for welfare delivery and social security have ended up disempowering many people, while aiming to solve problems for them. It highlights several recurring mistakes in the design of these systems. A short version has been published in the Civil Society.
We have also actively participated in several campaigns for more state responsiveness, including with the National Campaign for Migrant Workers for safe travel of stranded migrants, with SWAN for a review and standardization of procedures for travel of migrant workers, and several letters we have written ourselves drawing the attention of district commissioners and secretaries on problems being faced by the communities.
Update: May 3, 2020 — Our article on gaps in providing relief services has been published in Scroll.
A dashboard is also live giving a status of our calls and geographies from where users are calling and reporting problems. We are eager to have new partners join the network to use our technology in their own respective communities. We have prepared short tutorial videos and decks to explain our processes:
- Community mobilization: Deck (English, Hindi). Video (English, Hindi).
- Content contributions: Deck (English, Hindi). Video (English, Hindi).
- Impact pathways: Deck (English, Hindi). Video (English, Hindi).
Update: Apr 29, 2020 — A summary deck about our Covid related work so far. 250 impact stories since March 24th, 350K+ calls, 7K+ user stories, 2 surveys concluded to understand ground realities, 2 more surveys underway, several articles and reports written, 150+ content capsules created by our team and translated into multiple languages.
Update: Apr 26, 2020 — An article we wrote about the need for the state and society to be more emphatic to learn and fix systems: Using the context of the coronavirus related lockdown, we suggest that empathy is crucial for the state to design policies and systems that work for the poor, and for the members of society to understand one another. Building an empathetic state and society requires a communication infrastructure that supports feedback processes and ensures fair representation of diverse viewpoints. The crisis during the lockdown ushered the provisioning of such an infrastructure in a temporary and rudimentary form, and which we argue must now be strengthened and institutionalized going forward. Our discussion relies on reports and testimonies of hundreds of users of the Mobile Vaani platform, a voice-based participatory media service running in several districts in rural North India and urban industrial locations.
The article has also been published on The India Forum.
Update: Apr 18, 2020 — Results are now available from our lockdown survey (700+ respondents) among workers in the industrial areas of Haryana, Tirupur, Ahmedabad, and Delhi. Some key highlights:
- Almost 53% workers report having been laid-off during the lockdown, the highest being in Haryana
- Of the ones laid-off, 57% report not having been paid their full wages, the highest again being in Haryana, and Ahmedabad
- Overall, more than 60% of the workers report an urgent need for assistance, mostly of food. The worst is in Tirupur where many migrants from Bihar and Orissa are stranded, without money or ration. 50% of the people are desperate to go back home, and the situation hasn’t really changed much over the last three weeks of the lockdown
- The government has relaxed the rules for workers to withdraw funds from their PF accounts, but more than 50% of the workers do not have PF accounts, and of them 60% haven’t been paid their full wages either
Update: Apr 15, 2020 — Results from our community survey (1700+ respondents) are now available, about access to the lockdown related relief measures in rural Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. Some key highlights:
- Over 60% of the respondents have not received the free ration to which they were entitled. Anganwadi linked distribution is doing marginally better.
- At least 1 in 2 respondents have not received the financial assistance promised to them.
- The majority of respondents reported positively that police and local officials were not stopping them from availing essential services. 25% however did report high-handed behavior by the police.
- Over 50% of the respondents reported that they can manage household expenses for just a week if the lockdown were to be extended; 1 in 4 had no idea how long they would be able to manage.
Update: Apr 10, 2020 — Based on the voice-reports on our platforms, our article in the India Forum is now online. An article from a pre-lockdown survey we conducted in partnership with 101 Reporters was also published some two weeks back, see here for the survey results. A few during-lockdown surveys are also in progress and we will publish the results here soon.
The FAQs and other advisory content we created in Hindi, is now also available in Tamil, Marathi, and Oriya for open use.
Update: Apr 3, 2020 — We have started state-wise COVID-19 dedicated IVRs in four states now. These are missed-call based IVRs. Users can listen to pre-recorded FAQs and other content that we are producing on a regular basis, take a self-assessment survey to check if they may have at-risk symptoms and would like to consult a health worker, and report any issue they might be facing such as problems with food, cash, medical emergencies, etc. A wide network of partners have come together to provide these response services, including the Healing Fields Foundation, Piramal Foundation, and Tika Vaani in North India, and READ, REACH, TRLM, and Vizhuthugal in Tamil Nadu.
- Bihar: 9211153222
- Jharkhand: 9266609111
- Uttar Pradesh: 9266672555
- Tamil Nadu: 9266618777
Along with this, we are also actively running the content on our Mobile Vaani clubs, where our volunteers have completely floored the pedal to bring impact by responding to lockdown and other problems that the communities are facing. From providing help with securing food, cash, utilities, and escalating the need to strengthen government guidelines, our volunteers and community teams show that media is not just about providing information but also about translating that into action. Continue reading below to also understand the ground realities and other efforts we are undertaking to encourage communities to be more positive in their outlook about the virus and about community and family life in general.
Update: March 31st, 2020 — While we await a formal government go-ahead from various states to work together on community awareness for COVID-19, provide FLW advisory, and counseling services, the ground reality is starting to look very different because of the lockdown. Health issues seem to be least on the minds of people. Listen to these voices from across the country coming on our various community media platforms to understand what’s happening, from an unfiltered and untouched perspective, and the assistance being provided by our teams and volunteers. We hope the situation stabilizes soon and public attention comes back to health, and to seek advice, follow advisories, and be compassionate to one another. Each of these links is to an audio file.
In rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, and MP, while there is a lot of action by local authorities to distribute food, and many social workers and local NGOs have come to the rescue as well, but there is a lack of coordination that can be facilitated by the government such as to demarcate areas or direct people to go to the right places for help. Mobile Vaani volunteers have stepped up to raise these issues to the government and are helping connect people facing food shortages with social workers and Gram Panchayat authorities. Even temple pujaris are out of food and citizen groups have had to act against black marketing and rising prices which have gone up manifold. Our volunteers have also continued the hard work to hold PDS shopkeepers to account.
Several MLAs have offered their houses to serve as isolation wards while schools and panchayat bhawans are also being provisioned to serve as quanrantine units for returning migrants, but food and cleanliness problems persist. These people have walked back hungry because shops along the way are closed, hitched rides on trucks, or whatever means they could find to come back to the safety of their families, but the localites are stressed that those not following quarantine rules will cause the infection to spread and are acting as vigilantes. Clearly all this can spiral easily into communal social unrest and the government should issue more emphatic communication urgently via the Gram Panchayats. Unfortunately however there are also reports of irrational violent police action which doesn’t help alleviate tensions of people.
Reports say that markets are still on in many places and leading to large crowds but thankfully many shops even in rural areas have started social distancing practices by drawing circles on the ground for people to stand. It is a tough situation though. Shortages of gas cylinders is leading to large lines and pushing and shoving. All this calls for greater coordination by distribution agencies, as also seen at bank branches where large crowds assembled to withdraw cash and waited for several hours, but the bank later said that they didn’t have cash to disburse. This could have been conveyed earlier by them.
A similar lack of appropriate communication and coordination is much needed for health facilities. OPDs are closed in most public health centers and cases are coming up of a husband running around with a bleeding pregnant wife or people with injuries not getting medical attention. Physically disabled people are also facing similar issues in their day to day life. Community health workers are working hard to spread awareness but they are out of personal protection wear and in fact are facing stigma by their own village people for having higher chances of infection. Appeals have also been issued by PDS shopkeepers to be provided with masks and gloves, they are even ready to purchase them out of personal funds but nothing is available in the market.
In such an environment, people are anxious about their health and even approach doctors whom they trust, but based on user feedback we have decided to suspend the self-assessment IVR survey we had put up since it was creating greater anxiety among the people. We plan to open it up after some time when things are more stable. We are continuing to run the survey on the state-wide COVID-19 IVRs that are being promoted by our partner field teams who are trained on public health, and we are watching out for more feedback.
Work was continuing at a railway line despite the lockdown and our volunteers helped alert the authorities about it, but on the other hand farmers are upset because workers are not available for harvesting and clear guidelines are not being issued by the government. Feed availability for livestock is also becoming an issue and our volunteers helped escalate this issue for resolution in a few places. Due to a lack of work, people are facing hardship with availability of food and money. There are cries for help from the rural poor who live hand to mouth on a day to day basis. And also cries for help from their relatives stuck in far away cities in Karnataka or Jalandhar or Kerala or Mumbai or Gurgaon or Manesar or Haryana or Tirupur or Ahmedabad where the local state governments are trying to provide food but it is irregular and of poor quality, their landlords are pushing for eviction and employers or contractors are not paying wages, and people are afraid to step out because of the police, and helplines are not working. The living conditions of workers in cities were terrible to begin with, and now it is only worse. A mother from Madhubani who came to Delhi for treatment of her 15 year old daughter is now stuck here. They just want to go back to their families and loved ones but the lack of consistent communication by different state governments is causing a lot of confusion and stress. They want clarity on relief measures and how they will operate, they want action from the government and not just promises. The need is urgent and people are helpless, they have no way other than to walk back home. Even those who are settled in cities have run out food and fuel for cooking. Our teams are trying to connect such people with organizations that can help, with food or cash, but the need is very large.
On the other hand, people are also facing issues with accessing the relief benefits announced by the different governments. Many farmers have not received any DBT transfers for PM-KISAN as yet, clearly due to Aadhaar linkage issues. Gas cylinders have not been delivered because of the lockdown. There is no news on the advance ration promised.
Listen to more stories here, running upwards of 3000 now on COVID-19 related issues, and also stories of impact by our volunteers. A shorter pruned list of stories, reasonably up to date, is also maintained here. And write to us at email@example.com if you are working on the ground in Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, UP, Delhi NCR, Tamil Nadu, or Karnataka in any of the areas listed in the annexure of the note here.
All people are the same. All of us want dignity, stability, love, peace… yet all people are also different, coming from different contexts, different needs, different circumstances… the government and all of us need to be more communicative, more open to understanding one another, more compassionate, and only then do we stand chance as a society to live together and allow everybody to prosper. In our view, some things the state governments should do:
- Clarify that regular OPD functioning at the PHCs should restart
- Set up a helpline for PDS dealers and other shopkeepers to alert on supply shortages, and take immediate action to identify transportation or other bottlenecks that might be hampering the supply of food
- Run emphatic loud-speaker announcements via the Gram Panchayats urging people to be compassionate towards migrant workers returning home, to help ensure that their symptomatic testing is not unduly stressful, that their isolation wards are clean and food is provided to them, and that this should be a duty of the entire community and not just the state. Similarly, also communicate about the tough job that is done by the health workers, and to support them in such a difficult situation
- Issue guidelines on how to avail relief measures announced by various governments, but also provide easy routes for people who don’t have ration cards, or don’t have pension accounts linked with Aadhaar, or active Jan Dhan accounts. A simple cash disbursement process should be developed for them, or vouchers should be given for the purchase of essential commodities
- Ensure that community health workers are looked after, that they have adequate protective gear, and that training and treatment protocols are clearly communicated to them
- Workers who are continuing to stay in cities because of the lockdown, despite having no work any more, should be given a regular supply of cash or food without fail
- All service providers should be issued advisory on how to coordinate their distribution activities like by issuing tokens, and issue clear communication to the people, so that there is no unnecessary crowd buildup and stress on the people, and the police are not forced to intervene in a harsh manner to control the crowd
Update: March 31st, 2020 — While we await a formal government go-ahead from various states to work together on community awareness for COVID-19, provide FLW advisory, and counseling services, the ground reality is starting to look very different because of the lockdown. Health issues seem to be least on the minds of people. Listen to these voices from across the country coming on our various community media platforms to understand what’s happening, from an unfiltered and untouched perspective, and the assistance being provided by our teams and volunteers to respond to cries of help. We hope the situation stabilizes soon and public attention comes back to health, and to seek advice, follow advisories, and be compassionate to one another. Each of these links is to an audio files.
Update: March 27th, 2020 — As the situation on the ground rapidly changes, we are trying to be as agile as we can. Our platforms in Delhi NCR and Tamil Nadu (Erode, Tirupur) have quickly reacted to help migrant workers who are now stuck in the cities and running out of cash. We are connecting them with local partners for help. Similarly, in rural areas where returning workers face stigma and anxiety, and other problems surface such as black marketing and price inflation, our volunteers and field teams are on high alert to seek action from public authorities. Keep a tab on this sheet to hear voices from the ground.
With the government’s announcement of relief packages, we also expect many implementation level problems to arise, including for people who have had issues in linkage of their pension accounts with Aadhaar, issues with not having clarity on which of their bank accounts are linked with Aadhaar for DBT, what is their Jan Dhan account and the fact that they even have one, processes for enrollment as informal workers to avail the benefits, etc. All these are actually long pending issues that unfortunately haven’t been resolved as yet in the misguided belief of technology utopia. Our volunteer teams have been supporting their communities to resolve such issues, and we are bracing ourselves to continue providing the support in the best way we can as we foresee problems mounting up because of the lockdown. Even other problems such as stockouts at grocery stores and PDS shops, people running out of cash, lack of transportation in case of emergencies… all will come up and communities will need support. The lockdown should have been better planned, there was enough time, the whole situation is very disappointing.
Update: March 25th, 2020 — The Hindi audio content we have developed can be accessed here, based on a FAQ collated by us from various GoI/WHO sources (some open questions remain for which we will be happy to get inputs). If you can translate this content into other languages then do let us know.
We will next prepare content to counter significant fear in the communities, and the stigma that is getting attached to migrants who are returning from work and with anybody sick in the neighbourhood.
Further, keep a tab on this sheet where we are constantly adding more content on news and localized announcements for districts where we are working, to prevent misinformation, and also collating voices from the community. Bear with us as we get more organized on this. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to use any of this material to write blogs or articles for the mainstream media, about ground realities in rural areas.
Our services as outlined below are now live, we are expanding district by district to learn as we go along and course correct, to avoid any harm or confusion.
Update: March 23rd, 2020 — We have set up a district-wise response network in partnership with several organizations. Read note here. Our goal is to provide authentic information and advisory to rural and low-income communities, and to strengthen the capacity of the health system to refer, track, and counsel more probable cases of COVID-19. Three services are being launched:
- Access to FAQs, news, entertaining and engaging content, quizzes, etc for communities to deal with COVID-19
- Self-assessment survey especially on behalf of the elderly and very young children, to provide crisp actionable feedback
- Referral service to guide people to the right facilities, track their progress over time, and counsel them on appropriate action
So far we have organizations like Healing Fields Foundation, iKure, CRY, Digital Green, and the Piramal Foundation to provide referral advice and tracking support in several districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Orissa, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. We are looking to add more partners, please write to email@example.com if you have a connect with FLWs. Additionally, we will run information and advisory on all of the Mobile Vaani platforms (across 20+ districts in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Delhi NCR, and Tamil Nadu), as well as several partner-led platforms including with Digital Green, Enable India, and CREA, and link the various services from these platforms as well.
For prospective partners, if you need to learn more about the services and the process, see the tutorial slides here. In case you can assist with moderation of the voice-recordings, also see the quick-moderation guide here.
Some more details are below.
Update: March 21st, 2020 — At Gram Vaani, our priorities have suddenly shifted to combating the global Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Along with ensuring the safety of our staff and volunteer teams, we are striving to leverage our technology platforms and capabilities to support rural and low-income communities in this crucial time. Public health researchers from the University of Montreal and computer science students and faculty from IIT Delhi are working alongside us in this effort. Download a concept note here, and read below for the latest updates.
Awareness building: The right information delivered through the right platforms will inform and empower communities to stay safe and healthy during the crisis. This includes those in hard-to-reach segments (low literacy, rural and without Internet) and those who are at greater risk of suffering from the disease’s double burden of ill health and poverty, particularly women in their roles as family caregivers and frontline workers such as CHWs, ASHAs and AWWs. Our team is developing suitably contextualized audio content using authentic sources from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India and the World Health Organization. This content can be used by all of our partners, and we will also be playing it on our wide networks in rural Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and low-income communities in Delhi NCR. This includes:
- Summary advice on symptoms, prevention measures, care, and other useful information including links to the Government of India helpline phone numbers.
- Tutorials to help health workers in healthcare facilities keep abreast with new training protocols or guidelines for infection prevention and control or contact tracing.
We have prepared this FAQ from various resources. Following are some additional important open questions about contextualizing the advisories for rural and low-income populations. Please do take a look in case you have any clarity, or share with others who can experiment and propose appropriate solutions.
Countering misinformation: Authentic information about the COVID-19 status in the country and the world, including the government strategy, is going to be imperative to counter any misinformation that could surface on other media platforms especially if the going gets tough.
Community feedback: Our mission always has been to reverse the flow of information, and make it bottom-up instead of top-down. We are keeping alert to listening to problems that our users are facing, not just on health but also on the economic front, and we are channeling these to the regional and national media outlets.
This is being combined with a few technological solutions we are readying as an emergency preparedness step.
Outbound messaging system for frontline staff: With frontline cadre distributed across vast geographies and with dynamically evolving disease prevention and control procedures, it is essential to keep them updated on the latest protocols to follow. The automated system can send correct information to the functionaries in a real-time manner.
Case-reporting system for frontline staff: The system enables frontline staff to report information about probable cases, their age, gender, number of family members, travel history, etc. This information can be collated and sent to state case-tracking systems. When coupled with data about verified cases, this can become an important indicator to predict future outbreak clusters. This will also help expand the capacity of the state helplines, many of which are run manually right now. We are also in conversation with the District Health Information System (DHIS2) team from the University of Oslo to potentially integrate our case-reporting system to their dashboard and case-tracking system.
This is a draft IVR structure for an integrated case-reporting and FAQ system.
Smartform based collection of phone numbers from community members to get prepared for mass messaging: Frontline staff are not adept at using digital systems to provide information, and mass-training on how to use these tools is not feasible in the current circumstances either. We have therefore developed specially formatted paper forms which can be digitized rapidly through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tools. We are rapidly working to improve its accuracy. Phone numbers thus collected can be linked to specific locations and with care-of health workers and other frontline staff, so that response in case of follow-ups can be quick as well.
Query resolution and self-assessment system: We are building an automated voice-based question-answering system wherein people can call to seek information and ask questions, in as seamless a way as possible. The system will provide automated responses to the queries, or if their queries are not resolved then we will try to connect them with a network of informed volunteers who can match callers with pre-recorded and standardized audio capsules. A self-assessment system can also be setup to guide people on next steps of whether they might be in need for testing and should contact the government helplines or testing centers. We will try to also enable this in a text-format on the Facebook messenger and Whatsapp channels.
This is a draft IVR structure to host FAQs and a self-assessment survey.
Outbound messaging to community members will provide correct awareness messaging in a localized manner. In view of social distancing advisory by governments to combat the disease, entertaining ways of awareness building like quizzes can help alleviate anxiety and panic related to the disease. Self-evaluation of the disease at the community level can also be designed based on technically approved guidelines.
Gram Vaani’s Community media platform, Mobile Vaani, with its wide network helps reach out to underserved populations (rural, low literate) and provides an option to not only access information but also contribute towards reporting the ground situation. This community reporting will be instrumental to inform the world about health and economic challenges that the community is facing. We especially request our partners to contact us for any further assistance that we can provide.
We will keep updating this page with information about the audio content and other resources that we will put out.