Rasheeda Bhagat

Generosity to the fore during the pandemic

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on April 21, 2020 Published on April 21, 2020

With the govt machinery stretched, civil society across the country has stepped in to feed the hungry and the displaced

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed our inability to take care of millions of migrant labourers, daily- wage workers and others left to fend for themselves during the lockdown. But it has also brought to the fore the generosity and passion of our civil society to do good.

The Central and State governments are doing their bit to mange the pandemic but expectedly falling short; they don’t have infinite resources. In step the good Samaritans, beginning with the lion-hearted Sikhs. Thousands of citizens across the country are volunteering, and helping NGOs to aid the government steer the nation through this turbulence.

Heroes all

Our doctors and paramedics, police, corporation and local body workers have been overstretched to treat the infected and ensure the country remains locked down. But managing a population of 1.3 billion during such a life-threatening pandemic is like sitting on a time bomb. A tiny spark can cause mayhem, and we did see trouble last week… thousands of agitated migrant workers protesting at Mumbai’s Bandra station on April 14. They had been misled that train service would resume; rightfully, the Maharashtra government acted against the journalist concerned. In Surat too agitated migrant workers protested on the streets, looted vegetable carts, and so on.

If our hungry millions had not been able to find food to eat, chaos would have resulted. This didn’t happen thanks to civil society stepping in, primarily to feed the hungry and the helpless. In Gurugram, a group of over 400 dedicated volunteers comprising the local administration, NGOs, corporates and private individuals came together to provide cooked meals and foodgrains to migrant workers.

One of them is photographer Mustafa Quraishi, son of former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, who joined the group, and with his Isuzu truck packed with 1,000 meals every day and accompanied by a policeman, travels 100-odd km in the area to distribute food to stranded migrant labourers. He could have easily used the lockdown period to watch Netflix or catch up on sleep.

In Chennai, A Saravanan, who owns a supermarket, gives ₹1,000 credit to migrant workers, auto rickshaw drivers, etc., to buy essentials. The collateral he has from these 450-odd people is their word they will pay him once the lockdown is lifted. Also in Chennai, a Muslim family aided the cremation of their Hindu neighbour, who passed away at 78, and whose friends and family could not help because of the lockdown.

In Mumbai, the way in which civil society and voluntary organisations have responded to the plight of migrant labourers has reiterated this metro’s steely and caring backbone. A single club — Rotary Club of Mumbai Queen’s Necklace — began the lockdown by supplying 1,000 meals a day to migrant workers, daily labourers, etc., but soon realised this was inadequate and quickly ramped up the number to 1.5 lakh daily meals by April 15.

An expert in forging partnerships — it had already funded a ₹5 crore kitchen for preparing midday meals for schoolchildren in November 2019 — it quickly teamed up with the Annamrita Foundation ISKCON, TajSats, etc., to use their kitchens for making over 1.5 lakh daily meals. Using their friends, family and business connections, the club’s 179 members raised ₹2 crore in seven days, and ₹4 crore in 14 days, to feed Mumbai’s hungry.

If India’s financial capital cannot find the money, who else can? During these gloomy times there are innumerable stories of such generosity across India, which give hope that we shall overcome.

The more vulnerable

But we also need to think of high-risk groups such as the physically challenged during the pandemic. Think of spastic children or persons with spinal cord injury who already have challenges in maintaining good health and hygiene. Their vulnerability level goes up manifold if they get infected by the virus.

As S Vaidyanathan, co-founder of the Spinal Foundation, points out, “A spinal cord injury imposes multiple disabilities at one stroke — loss of sensation, mobility, bowel and bladder control, etc,” and even during normal times these people stand a risk of getting major secondary complications such as urinary tract infection, chronic kidney disease, and respiratory problems,. A Covid infection, if not treated immediately, would be fatal for them.

Komal Kamra, co-founder, says that within two weeks of the first infection reported in India, the group networked with its 25,000-odd members and decided to self-quarantine. Now they have written to the Prime Minister that people with spinal cord injury be classified as a “high risk” category, so that any infected person can get immediate hospitalisation.

Think about it; they won’t have the luxury of even 24-48 hours which able-bodied people would. Their numbers might be small; they can’t come out on the streets, but their voice has to be heard. They do not ask for our charity, just a classification, which should be given pronto.

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Published on April 21, 2020
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