Indian youth movement blazes a trail with COVID-19 mitigation initiatives rooted in solidarity

The initiatives of the Kerala unit of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) have received widespread commendation for their comprehensive and scientific approach towards social solidarity

May 25, 2020 by Muhammed Shabeer
Social Solidarity-DYFI India
DYFI is a progressive, anti-imperialist, democratic and socialist youth organization, active in India since the 1980s.

Millions of people across the globe are in distress due to the COVD-19 pandemic and lockdowns imposed to contain its spread. Progressive sections, including youth and farmers and workers’ organization have been in the forefront of providing relief and assistance to the people. In places where strong socialist governments are pursuing pro-people policies to tackle the COVID-19 emergency, progressive youth and volunteers are powerfully facilitating social solidarity. Youth from the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, Young Communist League-Cuba and Communist Youth League of China have played such a role in countries like Vietnam, Cuba, China.

Even in countries with repressive regimes like Bolivia and Chile, initiatives like #TropicoSolidario by Cochabamba farmers and #OrganicemosDignidad by a coalition of progressive Chilean groups have become a beacon of hope. In another such example, the Lenin Komsomol, through its #SVOIKH NE BROSAYEM! campaign, has helped the elderly. Socialist and communist youth groups in Bulgaria, Laos, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and in several other countries are similarly engaged in providing social assistance and solidarity to those in need during this lockdown. The initiatives by progressive youth groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (despite their limited resources) have been a heartening sight for humanists around the world.  

Youth organizations have also been key in the battle against COVID-19 in the south Indian State of Kerala. The initiatives of the communist-led southern government have been hailed across the globe as a fine example of fighting COVID-19. For a relatively smaller Indian State with limited resources and relatively higher population density, and with millions of expats across the world, the government has won praise for the way it has contained the pandemic. The major factors that have helped the State to achieve such a feat are the 1) The focused approach guided by scientific temper from the political leadership running the government, 2) streamlined, efficient and dedicated work by medical/health workers, police and other bureaucracy 3) pro-people policies by the government to ensure food/health/economic security of the people during the lockdown 4) co-operation and sacrifices made by civil society with a strong element of social solidarity. As of now, the State has resisted two waves of COVID-19 with only a few fatalities. It now braves a new wave resulting from the return of expats in large numbers from COVID -19 hotspots within India and abroad.

In this context, the initiatives of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) in the State have drawn significant attention due to their comprehensive and scientific approach towards social solidarity. 

DYFI initiated its anti-COVID campaign in the first week of March by publishing and widely circulating guidelines and protocols on physical distancing and personal hygiene. Kerala was the first State to be affected by the pandemic in India. DYFI followed their awareness campaign with a drive for cleaning and sanitizing hundreds of large and small buildings throughout the State as special COVID-19 care centers.

The group also volunteered help to those confined to home quarantine. Members ensured provision of food, essentials, medicines and other requirements to the elderly and those in need. By the second week of March, DYFI called for the mass manufacturing of protective masks and sanitizers by its cadre. This was distributed to medical staff, health workers, police and government officials and common people across the State. As of now, hundreds of thousands of masks and bottles of hand sanitizers have been distributed for free by the DYFI in Kerala. 

A mass hand washing campaign initiated by the State government to combat COVID-19 in the third week of March – ‘Break The Chain’ – was also supported by the DYFI, which set up hand washing stations with sanitizers and water dispensers at public places across its 27,252 unit localities in the State. Meanwhile, DYFI also called for a massive blood donation drive to replenish the blood banks in medical facilities in the State.

The lockdown to contain COVID-19 was declared by Kerala and the union government only in March last week. Following this, DYFI launched a State-wide voluntary local online helpline service to provide essential food, grocery and medical deliveries to families confined at home, supplies for pets and domestic animals, and even for feeding street dogs and monkeys. As the lockdown progressed, these initiatives have proven to be of significant help for tens of thousands of families across the State. DYFI also initiated online counseling for people in distress and those facing mental problems due to the lockdown. DYFI cadre also started delivering food to homeless people stranded in different cities. These cadre form a large chunk of the official youth volunteer force registered by the Kerala government to facilitate help for people during the lockdown.

When the State government initiated the opening up of more than 1,000 community kitchens at the local level to deliver cooked free/subsidized food to vulnerable families, DYFI mobilized its volunteers to help in the running of these facilities. In the second week of April, on Vishu Day – a festival in Kerala – DYFI donated a large quantities of rice and other groceries to all community kitchens across the State. On the same day, the group also donated a significant number of PPE kits to health workers in the State. 

To help migrant laborers stranded across the country due to lockdown, the DYFI Central Committee started a helpline through its different State committees, in which DYFI-Kerala made significant contributions.

As the government extended the lockdown, DYFI, in addition to their other campaigns, started online entertainment programs by live streaming performances by celebrities, artists and music bands. It also took part in governments’ initiative for the mass distribution of vegetable seeds across the State to boost household farming during the lockdown. When the union government raised petrol prices, DYFI organized protests in different places while adhering to physical distancing protocols. 

After the lockdown entered its third phase by the first week of May, sensing the need of the hour to ensure food security in the State, DYFI launched a unique campaign calling all its units in the State to organize local community farms and help other farming initiatives. 

As the lockdown led to significant reduction in the import of food grains and other foodstuff into the largely consumer State, the government had taken special interest in facilitating the paddy harvest in major agricultural areas. With the lockdown extending, the production of food grains and vegetables in the supplier States is likely to be further reduced, and imminent food scarcity is on the horizon if Kerala does not act accordingly in this phase. 

It is at such a juncture that DYFI launched the campaign to help farmers across the state harvest food grains and also to organize local community farms for the cultivation especially of high-yielding local food varieties. Such a campaign has been also initiated by the youth groups in Cuba (YCL-Cuba) by starting community farming, and in Russia (Leninist Komsomol) by building new gardens, orchards and farms in honor of the fallen heroes of the resistance during World War II. Such examples illustrate the similarities in the patterns of initiatives led by progressive youth groups across the world.

With the lockdown entering the fourth phase in mid-May, another important task identified by the youth of Kerala is for facilitating maximum contributions to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF-Kerala). For this purpose, along with coordinating individual and group donations, DYFI has launched a Recycle Kerala campaign to collect used, secondary materials from households for recycling. The recycled products will be sold by DYFI and the proceeds would be donated to the CMDRF.

With the return of expats from COVID-19 hotspots, Kerala is now braving a third wave of the pandemic. In order to organize quarantine centers for those who are returning,  DYFI cadres, along with State officials, have returned to work setting up facilities and disinfecting and sanitizing existing ones for the more than 250,000 people returning home. 

Meanwhile, the threat of a heavy monsoon looms. Excessive rain in previous years has led to two heavy floods, inflicting serious damage to lives and livelihoods in the State. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in his daily media briefing on May 14 that the government is making pre-monsoon arrangements necessary. In the wake of this, all the volunteer groups, especially of DYFI, are gearing up for a massive drive for (1) statewide pre-monsoon cleaning (2) widening and deepening culverts, sewers, drains and watercourses to ensure the smooth flow of rainwater, (3)  precaution against monsoon-related diseases, and (4) organizing accommodation facilities as camps to relocate families in case of floods.

Other youth organizations, volunteer groups and charities are also involved in relief work in the State. In the same line as the DYFI, the leftist All India Youth Federation (AIYF) has also carried out significant relief efforts in their strongholds in the State during this time. 

What makes the progressive initiatives pursued by DYFI and similar organizations unique is the comprehensive approach adopted to cater to the diverse problems emerging from the pandemic and the lockdown. Step-by-step, these organizations have carried out a systematic and scientific outreach program and continue to provide social solidarity to people in all walks of lives in the entire State. In light of the unprecedented crisis, DYFI did not act on a pre-planned module but evolved its strategy as a spontaneous response to the need of the hour.  It is also important to note that the nature and pattern of DYFI’s initiatives have also grown in tandem with the proactive policies of the State government, which has become a model for other Indian States and the nation itself.

Citing reports by experts, Kerala’s chief minister also stated on May 14 that COVID-19 may stay with us for a long period of time. To survive such times, there is a need to adapt, reorient and re-configure our lives. Neo-liberal governments, tokenism and random acts of charity will not help in such a situation, nor sustain us. Only pro-people governments and a humane civil society with a scientific temper will take us forward. As of today, there is only one remedy for COVID-19 – social solidarity.