Due to the worldwide outbreak of the Coronavirus, India announced lockdown on March 24 to curtail the spread of the disease. Ever since, many alumni of the country’s public funded universities marched towards helping the hungry with food and daily use items.

Imteyaz, an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU),said, “A seven-month-pregnant woman had to undergo surgery.” Our team members donated blood and in premature Cesarean delivery (C-section), she delivered a one-kilogram baby.”

Imteyaz, of UnNoticed—Marginalised From Mainstream, a group based in Muzaffarpur, Bihar has been providing food or clothes and running blood donation drives for those in need. As many as 26 persons have donated blood in the lockdown and hence saved lives.

This is the month of Ramazan. Yasir, “broke his fast to donate O negative (rare blood) to an 82-years-old Rajendra Prasad, who had to undergo a prostate surgery,” said Imteyaz. This act is not just a blood fusion, but proves that our society won’t survive without each other’s support.

In another case, a three-kilogram tumour was successfully resected from Muskan, a ten-years-old girl’s stomach after the team donated four units of blood.

Two alumni of JNU , New Delhi and an alumnus of Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata started a campaign called Food For Famished after the unplanned lockdown, which triggered panic waves and would push nation’s  migrant workers and their families near to death.

“We knew that the households of the migrant workers would be worst affected, so we marched towards helping them with food, along with different daily use items,” said Sudhanya Pal, one of the three organisers.

They covered four drives since its inception and helped four hundred families in Jalpaiguri, Ashok Nagar and Shyaam Bazaar in Kolkata. The fear that led to this initiative was —What would kill India’s poor first, Covid-19 or hunger?

Many women whose son or husband would work in different  cities had nothing left to eat. Many fired their domestic workers due to fear of catching Covid-19. On the spur of the moment they were  “workless and had no money,” said Sudhanya, who studied social science from the varsity.

In the case of slums they visited, we saw “many families of five or six members each would live only in a single room without access to even a tap water,” said Ashvinder Seera, a sociology honours alumnus at the varsity. “How would they wash their hands and maintain social distance? “Social distancing is a privilege,” she added.

On similar lines, a medical professional at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JNMCH) of the Aligarh Muslim University, (AMU), Aligarh, Dr Saleem Mohammad, along with his volunteers of his NGO—Soch Beyond Imagination covered Aligarh-Delhi Highway in addition to the city’s internal areas to distribute food.

The first day, he started helping the poor from his small office which is located inside a house. “After a few hours of work, I left,” said Dr Saleem. Next day when he came back to work, the house owner told him, “after you went, Dr Saleem, the doorbell rang throughout the night” and the needy kept coming, looking for ration.

In Aligarh itself, AMU students and the local residents worked tirelessly for the relief. In the first phase (of the lockdown), “above 40 teams worked in different areas to help workers and homeless persons,” said Dr Saleem. Till date, volunteers at Soch assisted 1500 families and individuals. In addition, they also plan to make Eid kits, for how can Eid be celebrated without new clothes?, is a question popping up.

The authorities claimed that they provided relief material to the poor. They might have done so, but “on paper”. “They have big mouths and very short hands as they said too much and did too little on the ground,” added Dr Saleem.

Azhar, a student of Masters in English language at the IIT-Madras is part of Chinta Bar, a student collective concerned about socio-political causes, which worked for transgender people, unorganised labourers and families of the disabled persons.

“Till now, we have covered 800 households and provided one month ration to each,” said Azhar. Tamilnadu Commissionerate of the Welfare of the Differently Abled “provided us the data and hence, we could help 90 differently-abled households.”

“We are pushing the contractors to pay the workers their pending daily wages, as the former are threatening the latter that if they do not return to the work, their wages would be cut,” said Azhar.

Shariq Hussain of United Against Hate (UAH), along with a few students of Jamia Millia Islamia, (JMI), New Delhi has been providing food to the needy, every day since Delhi’s communal  riot in the late February. The lockdown due to Coronavirus extended their work in more ways.

“For the first 25 days of the lockdown, we helped 10,000 families each day,” said Shariq. “Now, we help 300 to 400 households and in Delhi’s outskirts villages in addition to helping 2000 workers with daily cooked food.”

One day, Shariq could not go to Ghaziabad where he promised the workers that he would come.  The third day when he visited them with food, they told Shariq “We survived on chips and water the last day.” Shariq felt very bad, thinking “what must be going through workers’ belly when they had nothing to eat.”

“Along with blood donation drives,” said Imteyaz, who now is an assistant professor at Muzaffarpur’s Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, said, “we also help  the workers with ration.” Till now the team, together with Insaaf Manch, another group in Muzaffarpur helped 2500 households.

“Due to self-respect, there are many who never ask for help, we go and request them to accept our help,” said Inteyaz, who has been a social activist since 2016.

Sudhanya added, “we are paying the society what we owe them.” Small help provided by these groups and groups like these help the country flatten the curve of hunger.

Amir Malik is a JNU alumnus and an ACJ graduate. He can be reached at malikamiralig@gmail.com


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