Student organization helped over 81,000 people in India during pandemic

Bangalore Student Community has helped stranded migrant labourers, youth, and COVID-19 patients

Bangalore Student Community volunteers distribute water bottles to migrant labourers stranded at Palace Grounds in Bengaluru, India due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Bangalore Student Community volunteers distribute water bottles to migrant labourers stranded at Palace Grounds in Bengaluru, India during the national lockdowns in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY BANGALORE STUDENT COMMUNITYBangalore Student Community

A small boy strayed away from his family when they were trying to go back to their hometown from Bengaluru, India, in March 2020, when scores of poor migrant labourers were clearing the city for a national lockdown.

The little boy had somehow ended up at the sprawling Palace Grounds attached to the Bangalore Palace days later.

Fortunately, he was spotted by one of the volunteers of Bangalore Student Community [BSC], a group of Good Samaritans formed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers were able to reach his parents, who had already reached their village in Bihar, more than 2,000 kilometres away.

They booked the boy a train ticket, helped him board the train and reunite with his family.

It’s just one example of the work BSC has been doing during the pandemic. The migrant crisis was a trigger point for Jatti to bring young students together to create a positive impact. The Bangalore Student Community has helped thousands of stranded migrant labourers, students and COVID-19 patients in Bengaluru.

The group says it has helped more than 81,000 migrants during three national lockdowns that lasted for more than two months altogether. It also launched clothing drives, fundraisers for care beds, and more.

Each lockdown prompted a migrant labour exodus from major metropolitan cities. Migrant daily wage labourers were one of the hardest-hit groups and had no immediate government assistance. 

“During the whole migrant crisis, there were not many people who were coming out and helping initially,” Dhruv Jatti, founder and president of BSC, said in an interview over Zoom. “So we started getting students out of their homes to come out and help.”

BSC is now a fully registered organization that has a strong volunteer base of over 800 students between the ages of 18 and 23. They have four WhatsApp groups, each with more than 200 volunteers, and their Instagram account has amassed more than 3,000 followers. 

Watch how Bangalore Student Community helped people during the lockdowns in India:

How it started

Jatti is a third-year BA student at Jindal School of International Affairs in Delhi. Like many students, he too returned to his hometown — Bengaluru — days before the national lockdown came into effect. 

In response to the needs of poor migrant labourers, the government had started free train services across the country to help them get home. However, in Bengaluru, before the migrants could get to the railway stations to board their trains, they had to go to government-mandated places to get their tickets and wait for government buses to take them to the station. 

News channels aired footage of thousands of labourers waiting for their tickets for hours and hours at Palace Grounds, where the little boy was found.

Jatti was able to talk to the local authorities at the grounds to allow him and his friends to volunteer.

Migrant labourers sit and wait for their trains at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru, India during the lockdown in 2020.
Migrant labourers would assemble and sit at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru to wait for their train tickets and to board buses to the railway stations. PHOTO COURTESY BANGALORE STUDENT COMMUNITY

“It was just two of us who went there on the first day and then we had like four friends who joined us … the next day. So that’s how it started,” Jatti said.

BSC’s volunteers helped the migrants fill government forms, provided refreshments and meals while they waited to get to their trains. The meals included rice, sambar — a lentil-based south Indian curry, one more curry, along with biscuits and packed juices. They also handed out masks and sanitizers. They also distributed sanitary pads to women.

From six to 600 

What began with just six people, soon turned into a “widespread movement” Anuraag Shyamsunder, a BSC volunteer who is now its vice-president. 

Within a week, Jatti and other volunteers realized they needed more help to deal with massive crowds that visited the grounds each day. Through Instagram and WhatsApp, they issued callouts for volunteers. The number of volunteers jumped from six to 60 at the end of the month. In the next month, it skyrocketed to close to 600 volunteers.

“I’m not sure even Dhruv [Jatti] expected the number of people who actually showed up,” Shyamsunder said. “We had almost hundreds, like 200 to 300 people ready to show up every single day that in a couple of weeks, we had to limit the number of students who wanted to come out and participate.”

The increased number of volunteers also helped BSC fundraise. Initially, the money came from the pockets of the six core members.

BSC volunteers provided refreshments and water bottles to migrant labourers and their families who were stranded at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru, India. PHOTOS COURTESY BANGALORE STUDENT COMMUNITY

Tackling more issues

After nearly three months, the migrant crisis came to an end. BSC had helped thousands of migrants reach their homes and unite with their families. 

People that BSC helped still reach out to them and express gratitude. One person from the eastern state of Bengal texts Jatti each month on the fifth to commemorate June 5, the day he received Jatti’s help.

BSC decided to take the momentum forward and help in other ways.

“We were getting so much support, then why not make better use of it?” said Ameena Baig, BSC’s general secretary.

COVID-19 cases in the city were rising but there were not enough beds to facilitate care at care centres set up by the government. BSC started a fundraiser for donating beds to a care centre in the city. 

In just three days, they collected over $6,500 and donated 538 beds to a COVID-19 care centre set up at the College of Horticulture in Bengaluru.

BSC also emerged as a collective voice for students and held protests to urge the government to rethink its decision to open colleges and universities for exams. 

“That campaign was successful in … a micro-scale because it was just limited to Bangalore, not the whole of Karnataka. But, we were able to convince a number of colleges and the [state] education minister himself,” Jatti said.
A recent Instagram post from BSC requesting the Chief Minister of Karnataka to cancel offline exams for university students in light of rising COVID-19 cases in the city. COURTESY BANGALORE STUDENT COMMUNITY VIA INSTAGRAM

Dream come true

The migrant crisis was a trigger point for Jatti to bring young students to come together to create a positive impact. For Jatti, creating such a vibrant community was a dream come true. 

Jatti had wanted to create a student community in 2018. However, it didn’t work out well. 

“I think for something to work out, you have to have a common cause and goal. So the migrant crisis is what gave me that opportunity to get students together,” said Jatti.

This time, the purpose of the community is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of quality education. They have identified a government-run school in the city that requires help with educational and infrastructural needs. 

BSC plans to bring volunteers to act as mentors to kids and help them learn more than what the school can offer. Jatti says that they are trying to create an app that can provide students with extra reading materials. He also hopes to teach civic and human rights to children.

Read more positive pandemic stories from the Toronto Observer:

How 1 artist sacrificed her dream to help minorities during the pandemic

How Ontario’s parks became pandemic lifesavers

How Toronto’s restaurants are staying afloat and feeding frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

About this article

Posted: Apr 21 2021 2:21 pm
Filed under: Community COVID-19 News