Silicon Valley-based engineer Alok Rathore and his family landed in Mumbai from the US on March 1 for a holiday at their family residence in Goregaon, Mumbai.
However, with the Covid-19 lockdown being declared soon after, he couldn’t fly back to the US and continued to work for his company remotely from India. Few days into the lockdown, Alok heard the plight of migrant workers struggling to manage two-square meals and being out of work due to the unprecedented crisis.
Pained by what he witnessed, the IT professional decided to start distributing food and drinking water to the needy. Now, Alok heads the ‘RotiSabji’ campaign in Mumbai, which has supported around 1,500 families with ration kits and drinking water in just a matter of months.
Soorya Krishnamoorthy, founder-director of the SOORYA Stage and Film Society narrates how this NRI engineer turned into a saviour of thousands. Soorya’s son Lakshman is Alok’s friend and donor of the campaign.
“Alok was shattered by the mass exodus of migrant labourers from Mumbai. But he really got a sense of the gravity of the situation when an Uttar Pradesh native who used to supply vegetables to his family regularly decided to return to his state. That’s how the campaign took birth,” says Soorya.
Alok is assisted by 20 volunteers who include his father Yogendra Singh Rathore and family friends. The campaign locates the needy everyday in Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and provides them with essentials.
“Though Alok ran the initiative on his own in the beginning, the campaign now has around 430 donors, including CEOs and CFOs of many companies in Silicon Valley. They have donated around Rs 35 lakh for the initiative. The essentials are procured by Alok and his father for distribution in Mumbai,” adds Soorya.
Around 1,100 female hygiene products, procured by Alok from local Jan Aushadhi Stores, were also distributed through the campaign.
According to Soorya, the situation of migrant labourers a few months back was distressing. “The government in Kerala treated them well by supplying good food and rehabilitation but the condition in Mumbai was very different. That’s when Alok stepped in to support them. Though the Maharashtra government has now initiated programmes for labourers, Alok continues to work for them.”
Alok, who has been settled in US for the past 15 years, lives with his wife Neha and three-year-old daughter Anjali. He plans to go back by next month, but wishes to continue supporting the migrant workers as much as he can.
“They shouldn’t go out begging on the streets. The eventual goal was to ensure these families aren’t suffering without essentials. Now I wish to support the education and skill development of kids coming from underprivileged backgrounds. I plan to start a not-for-profit business and generate employment opportunities. A charitable society will be formed through which all these initiatives will be streamlined,” says Alok.