"My Lockdown Life" Migrant workers photograph their daily lives while in lockdown.

Migrant workers stranded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic related lockdown photographed their daily lives. This webpage hosts a collection of pictures taken, by migrants from Odisha, over a period of 10 days in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

An initiative, Khelo Bandhu (Play, My Friend), rolled out a photography competition for migrant workers from Odisha. The competition was a part of a package of activities designed to keep young migrant men meaningfully engaged to protect their emotional wellbeing during this time while also discovering their talent and interests.

The ten day competition, from 4 to 13 April 2020, asked these men to document their daily lives using their mobile phones. Everyday, one winner and few other eligible entries were chosen, which received prizes in the form of mobile recharge. The final three winners were awarded cash prizes of ₹ 1000, ₹ 500 and ₹ 250.

Hemanta Malik won the first prize for a photo of him drawing an illustration on a cardboard piece with a blue ball point pen. The final illustration had a grassroots worker talking to the community about four key messages on measures to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hemanta, 23 year old, migrated from Ganjam district in Odisha to Pondicherry to work in the construction industry. He asked for his prize money to be deposited into his father's bank account.
The final illustration by Hemanta. It said the following: (1) If we maintain sanitation, Corona cannot touch us. (2) All of us have to get together and follow lockdown rules. (3) We have to get together to protect our country. (4) To keep Corona away, wash your hands before eating. The list of slogans ended with the message COVID-19 - STAY SAFE, STAY HEALTHY.
"The lockdown is very much needed for all of us to stay safe from being affected by the virus. Gram Vikas has been working in my village for quite a long time now, I think we need to learn from the sanitation related improvements that has come into my village. During this period we all need to practice good sanitation practices and keep our homes clean and our surroundings clean so as to be safe from the virus. I like drawing and I got inspired by the photo that was shared in the group. Thought I would draw the same."
Justin Kumar, a 23 year old migrant, from Kalahandi district in Odisha, chose to submit a self portrait. He shares a room with his friend in Thrissur district in Kerala. They are both painters. In the image, he is seen painting the window frame of the house he lives in.
"No work here. We all were tired sitting around doing nothing. There was some left over paint from work and we thought, we would paint our old home. I live in a rented house. We all stay together here. So far, we have no trouble in getting food or water."
Pradeep Jani won the third prize for his photo of a group of people waiting to buy vegetables from local street vendors in Pondicherry. The people can be seen wearing masks and maintaining social distance, precautionary measures against the coronavirus infection. Pradeep works as a rod binding worker in a construction site in the Pondi Main Town. It's been almost a year since left his village Kainfullia in Rudhapadhar Gram Panchayat in Kalahandi district of Odisha.
Sohudev, 22 years old, migrated from Kalahandi in Odisha to Thrissur in Kerala to work as a painter. He took the decision after seeing most of his friends earning well in Kerala doing similar work. He paints houses. Money was way more, two to three times higher than what they could make back in their village. The photo is of him making tea for everyone that he shares a room with.
"I don't know what is to be done right now. We are all stuck in one place. There is no work, this is our biggest worry. I sent you a cooking photo since I make the best tea here and everyone likes my tea. Thought, I would send you a photo of me making tea for them all. We spend a lot of time cooking too, since there are quite a few of us here. So, we start cooking early."
Sumanta Mallik works as a contract labourer in a construction company in Bengaluru city. He is 21 years old and migrated from Ganjam district in Odisha to Karnataka. He lives with seven other people in a quarters that the company has given them. He submitted a photo of a moment in the day where some of his roommates are playing cards, while others are resting.
"It is very difficult for us right now. No money. We have got food though. Company gives us rice and dal. But that is just not enough for us. We are sitting doing nothing. I feel the money will run out at some point. The reason I sent you the photo of us playing card games is because that is what we do here to kill time. It is either that or indoor cricket. Don't want to overthink too much."
Photographs by Pradeep Jani

On 30 March 2020, six days after the Indian Prime Minister announced the nation wide, COVID-19 pandemic related lockdown, three organisations - Gram Vikas, ESAF Small Finance Bank, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development - with the support of Cognizant Technology Solutions, Kochi, launched the Bandhu Helpline. The multilingual helpline sought to offer support and comfort to the stranded migrant workers in Kerala.

For the team managing the Odia helpline at Gram Vikas, the phone calls in the first few days went late into the wee hours of the morning, up until 2.30 to 3.00 a.m.

Teams were up managing requests for food, concerns about cooking fuel running out, about places to stay. Some were worried that they were ill as they coughed, and others wanted to know when they could travel back home again.

The three member team has managed a total of 812 calls, inbound and outbound, as of 15 April 2020. Everyday, they spoke to at least 100 people. After the extension of the lockdown on 14 April, the team is doing the second round of outbound calls to 480 migrant workers from Odisha who we have details of.

We quickly realised that the support for the migrant workers needed to be more than giving information or connecting them to services at the destination sites. The young men needed to stay meaningfully engaged to protect their emotional wellbeing. What could help were activities that took their mind away from the constant worry about the overwhelming uncertainty and thinking about their families and their lives.

On 8 April 2020, we put out a call for volunteers who could create engaging content.

Twenty five volunteers, from different parts of the country, designed image and text based quizzes on popular places and maths. Some of them curated stories to be read in regional languages. Others translated WHO cards with health information. Designers helped with collaterals including posters, digital certificates, and IEC cards.

The group is led by a volunteer who came on board to support this important work.

"I liked the competitions. It gave me something else to do. The prize money helped us recharge our phones and speak to our families. We also got net packs to use WhatsApp. We were able to get news and messages because of that. "

The Helpline and its activities continue to be one of the most important work being done as part of COVID-19 response. Besides ensuring that the stranded workers don't go hungry, are able to stay connected with their families, or get access to shelter and healthcare, it also provides them much needed emotional relief in having someone trusted to talk to and share their concerns with.

The volunteer call will continue till the lockdown is lifted and travel is allowed. Write to c19@gramvikas.org if you want to partner us in this effort.

Created By
Priya Pillai


All photographs by migrant workers who participated in the competition.