As many as 75 migrant workers turned up to donate blood, many of them for the first time in their lives, at the migrant settlement in Thubarahalli in Bengaluru.

Unfazed by stigma Bengaluru migrant labourers queue up to donate blood
news Health Monday, August 03, 2020 - 19:00

Jashmuddin was uncertain entering the make-shift tent set up for the blood donation camp in Thubarahalli, a migrant settlement located close to Whitefield in Bengaluru. 

The 38-year-old from West Bengal had never donated blood in his life, but that was about to change on Sunday. “I went in (to the tent) and filled up a few forms. I was then asked if I am willing to donate blood and I said, why not? I will do it happily. I thought it would be painful, but I almost didn’t feel it,” he says. 

Jashmuddin washes cars in luxury apartment blocks that loom large over the settlement of tin-roofed shanties where he lives. “We came to know that there was a shortage of blood in blood banks. We held a discussion in our community and we decided that we would donate blood to help,” says Jashmuddin. 

A blood donation camp was organised in Thubarahalli on Sunday by Swaraj Abhiyan, supported by the Lions Blood Bank and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, a government hospital in Bengaluru. As many as 75 people in the migrant settlement, mostly comprising Bengali speakers, came forward to donate blood — for many of them, this was their first time doing so. 

Blood donation camp in Thubarahalli, Bengaluru

Shortage of blood in Bengaluru

Laxmi Narayan, the blood bank councillor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, told TNM that the hospital has been short of blood since the lockdown. “We have not conducted blood donation camps in the last two months. Very few people have come forward to donate blood since the lockdown, so we are thankful that the people here have donated blood during a pandemic,” says Laxmi Narayan. 

Read: Shortage of blood in Bengaluru, blood banks seek help from healthy persons

Doctors wore protective equipment and maintained distancing measures while collecting blood.  “We followed distancing measures and gave masks to those who didn’t have one. We wore PPE, including face shields and gloves, and ensured that those who turned up to give blood did not form a crowd,” adds Laxmi Narayan.

Blood donation camp in Thubarahalli, Bengaluru

He says that the hospital needs around 15 units of blood everyday, particularly for patients with thalassemia (a blood disorder).

Similarly, Lions Blood Bank had not conducted a blood donation drive in the past month. Over 40 units of blood were collected by the Lions Blood Bank and 34 units of blood were collected by the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health on Sunday.

“The fact that a group of migrant workers donated blood will give confidence to others to come forward and donate blood,” says Prashant, technical supervisor for the Lions Blood Bank. 

“We tested the units of blood collected on Sunday and it was cleared for distribution. We hope this dispels fears that collecting blood from residents of migrant settlements will lead to complications. This fear stems from the assumption that many of the workers do not take vaccinations,” adds Prashant. 

Thubarahalli near Whitefield in Bengaluru

Residents in Thubarahalli say they are aware of the shortage of blood in Bengaluru.

In July, a pregnant woman from the settlement struggled to find a hospital when she was due to deliver. The woman’s family said that government hospitals were treating COVID-19 patients and that they could not afford treatment in a private hospital. The Jayanagar General Hospital was one of few government hospitals admitting pregnant women in the city. “We often go to government hospitals for treatment and we found that even government hospitals were facing a shortage of blood,” Abdul Jabbar Mandal, who works for an online home services aggregator, says. 

Read: Pregnant woman says Bengaluru hospital refused to treat her because she got COVID-19

Migrant settlement in Thubarahalli

‘We wanted to give something back to the community’

Men in the migrant settlement in Thubarahalli find work as ragpickers, housekeepers, construction workers, security guards, and drivers in high-rise apartments and software parks surrounding their settlement while the women work as cooks and cleaners. But during the lockdown imposed over the outbreak of coronavirus cases in India, most residents of Thubarahalli were left without work. 

“Around 100 residents left their home and returned to West Bengal during the lockdown because we struggled to arrange ration and food. NGOs came forward to donate rations twice in our settlement,” says Jabbar. He also works as an activist in his free time to organise the residents of Thubarahalli.

“We want to give something back to the community for the help we have received. We don’t have money to give because many people have not yet returned to work, so we decided to donate blood,” says Jabbar. 

Abdul Jabbar Mandal in Thubarahalli 

“While donating blood, doctors do not differentiate between religion or caste, whether the donor is rich or poor. It is a great example of how everyone is equal. Most workers who donated blood are without work for the last few months and yet, they turned up when we asked them to donate blood,” Kaleemullah, an activist with Swaraj Abhiyan, says. 

Branded Bangladeshi immigrants and the threat of eviction

The settlement in Thubarahalli is home to around 6,700 Bengali-speaking migrant workers and most of the residents are Muslims, according to a survey conducted by Jabbar. 

Earlier this year, its residents faced the threat of eviction as police officials in Bengaluru searched for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Bengaluru. The residents in Thubarahalli were labeled Bangladeshi immigrants even though this claim is denied by the residents who say that they have produced relevant documents at the local police station in Varthur. It is one of four settlements in the Whitefield area alongside Munnekolala, Kariyammana Agrahara, and Devarabeesanahalli, where police searched for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in January. 

Read: Migrant workers in Bengaluru live in fear as police search for Bangladeshi immigrants

Migrant settlement in Thubarahalli

A section of one of the settlements in Kariyammana Agrahara was razed down by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) even though its residents were Indian and had documents proving their citizenship. The move to raze down sheds in the settlement was later deemed to be ‘unauthorised’ by the BBMP. The Karnataka High Court's Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka pointedly asked the civic body and the city police “Can you identify Bangladeshi by looking at face?”‘

Read: ‘Can you identify Bangladeshi by looking at face’: Karnataka HC slams state

Sachindra Robin Mondal, a resident of Thubarahalli

After the threat of eviction died down, many workers lost their jobs following the lockdown imposed in March. Some of the workers who turned up to donate blood on Sunday are yet to return to work even though lockdown rules were relaxed in Bengaluru at the end of July. They say they are still struggling to arrange food and groceries for their families. 

“There are construction workers who are sitting idle because construction activities have stalled. Some women who work in apartments as cooks and cleaners have also not resumed work,” explains Jabbar. He hopes that the blood donation drive encourages residents of apartments near their settlement to allow workers to return to their daily jobs.

“During this pandemic, we have seen some apartments issuing blatantly discriminatory orders prohibiting domestic cooks and cleaners from using elevators or even entering the building to work. I hope that with this gesture, apartment residents will realise that the blood of their domestic help is saving lives and might one day save their own life,” says Vinay Kumar, an activist who helped organise the drive.


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