02:35 - Source: CNN
Rajasthan's lockdown has cut these villagers off from food
CNN  — 

Bheru Singh lives in Dechu, a desert village in the far west of Rajasthan in India, where summer temperatures rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Before India imposed a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Singh was employed at a local quarry, filling trucks for 9,000 rupees, about $119 a month.

Now the work has stopped and he has no money to feed his family of six, giving the Singh family no option but to rely on charity.

Around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the nearest city of Jodhpur, Dechu seems like a village that has fallen through the cracks.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, factories across the country shut down, public transport stopped, and millions of migrant workers were stranded far from home.

Dechu, like many isolated communities, found themselves virtually cut off. The nearest shop is 7 kilometers (4 miles) away, too far to walk for many in the village, especially in the heat of summer.

Govind Rathore, the founder of Sambhali Trust, a non-governmental organization working to empower women, knows the issues presented by Dechu’s isolation – it’s his ancestral home.

“We always came here in a very sheltered manner – my parents or relatives looked after us. I have lived here, and we had access to Jodhpur. But now we are totally cut off,” said Rathore.

Last month, he decided he had to do something to help, and mobilized a team of 14 people to provide basic essentials to villagers desperate for food and other supplies.

Every day, he and his team gather at 11:30 a.m. and work through a list of people who are struggling during the pandemic. They add more names as the lockdown wears on.

Rathore and his team visit the local grocer and begin making food packets. Each packet costs around $11 and contains items such as flour, pulses, sugar, oil and spices – enough to feed a family of four for 10 days.

The state government concedes that Rajasthan’s vast area presents a challenge when it comes to distributing aid.

“We are the largest state in the country when it comes to geographical area. So even in normal times the delivery of services is a big challenge, especially in western Rajasthan,” said Rohit Singh, the chief secretary of Rajasthan state government.

There are a few areas in the state where you have to stretch government services to get them. It is a challenge. But in these pandemic times the challenge extenuates further, he added.

Under a national scheme, the Indian government is providing flour and rice for subsidized rates through local vendors, but they don’t include the other essentials, such as oil or salt, said Rathore.

“What can people do with just flour or rice? They need more staples,” he added.

The government has also initiated a basic stipend to individuals who are below the poverty line and they can withdraw the money from their banks.

But the nearest bank from Dechu is also 7 kilometers (4 miles) away and the lines there are long, Rathore said.

Rathore’s journey into social work began 14 years ago when he decided to hold primary classes for a few women who had never received an education. The next year, he opened his NGO.

Dechu’s isolation during the pandemic led Rathore to realize that nothing has really changed for his village in decades.

“During the crisis, there was nothing here – no one was here to help the people. I don’t know how they were living here. I have never seen anything like this,” he said.