COVID-19: Homes burnt, but spirit to keep country safe still alive

New Delhi: Forty-year-old Sanjida, a resident of Shiv Vihar in northeast Delhi, had to run for her life during communal riot in February. But after her return, she is stitching her life back by making protective equipment (PPE) to keep front-line workers safe in country’s fight against coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Sanjida is one of the hundreds of riot hit women who had to flee to save their lives and took refuge in Chaman Park in Mustafabad. The rioters burnt their houses and their source of livelihood, while the families are struggling to restart their lives, the Covid-19 disease struck.

Saina, Sanjida and two other women received two sewing machines given by Miles2Smile collective as part of rehabilitation in the area. “We are relying on the ration given to us by the government and various organisations. There isn’t anything else to do. When we got the sewing machines as a part of the rehabilitation drive, we decided to stitch masks and PPE suits during this lockdown,” said Saina.

These women take turns to use the two sewing machines. Most of the household in areas like Zafarabad, Mustafabad and Shiv Vihar are involved in small scale work, and are known for making belts, ladies purses, dresses, toys etc.

Aasif Mujtaba, a PhD scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, who founded the Miles2Smile collective, said, “A local residing in the area, who earlier gave stitching work to these women, got a suggestion from someone that since there is no work and a dearth of PPE kits across the country, these women could be approached for the work.”

A sample kit was provided to these women over a week ago along with raw material. Mujtaba says that so far, they have made over 35,000 masks and over 200 full-body PPE kits. “We have now provided them with better quality material (70 gsm) and work on it will begin from Tuesday. Some of the kits have been distributed to volunteers working in the area. We have also approached local police personnel in various areas and will distribute kits to them as well. If there is a demand, we can also sell these it to those in need,” Mujtaba said, adding that the kits would be sterilised before distribution.

Countrywide lockdown has badly hit the informal sector and these women are no different. They are open to receive bulk orders for making masks and PPE kits. And “it will help us as well”, continued Saina.