Citizens across India have been connecting, mobilizing, and achieving extraordinary things using social media and smartphone apps following lockdown. As conversations on Covid-19 quickly took over social media, Albertina Almeida, a lawyer, and human rights activist, knew these discussions deserved a separate dedicated space.
The Covid-19 Response Goa People’s Voices began as a platform to discuss policy responses in Goa. As Goa was plunged into complete lockdown, a fear of dwindling food supplies was goaded by limited information on government measures. Says Albertina, “The group started as a place to talk about issues emerging during the Covid-19 crisis. Despite the fact that most members came from different walks of life, coordination and effective action was the need of the day. Several members did assistance work, members connected directly with one another to exchange information, and support each other.”
One of the first actions this group initiated was an inquiry into the unnecessary force used by CISF personnel to implement lockdown in Goa. As photos and videos emerged of CISF beating people, a member of the group took it up with Goa Police for verification, following which a complaint was filed. Another member of the public appealed to the Human Rights Commission, following which the CISF has committed to an inquiry on the incidents. Similarly, the group has submitted representations on availability of testing kits, requesting scientific community surveys, deploying aid to stranded migrant workers, ensuring adequate PPEs for health workers, rights of fish workers, and a representative Economic Revival Board.
Another member, also volunteering with the Stranded Workers Action Network, described how location sharing has been a great tool to map and identify clusters of stranded people. Volunteers are also collecting photos of ID cards of migrants wishing to return home. “The current government portal requires a combination of Internet access and knowledge of English for someone to register themselves. We’re asking for information over WhatsApp and filling out these forms for them.”
In closing, Albertina laughs and adds, “It began with a WhatsApp group, then a Facebook page, later an email address…our successful representations were possible only because of the work we achieved collectively. As a relatively new user of WhatsApp, I’ve realized that you can’t delete controversial messages. We had to have difficult conversations, set aside differences, and ultimately work together. Technology forced us to take it up, and talk it out!