The country has been going through an unprecedented health crisis. There is despair and desperation all around. We are constantly getting news about uncontrolled virus spread, rising death tolls and collapsing health systems. Add to this chaos the unimaginable levels of sufferings of the workers walking hundreds of kilometres to reach back their homes, sights of police beating up or punishing those walking, and the picture of absolute hopelessness is complete.  Prolonged exposure to this situation of pandemic is enough to severely compromise our ability to face the trauma created by it. All of us are getting affected with the distress caused. Unfortunately, softer yet powerful, invisible yet life-changing acts of compassion are lost in the roars of the crisis.

Any disaster may be addressed at two levels: systems and individuals. While state develops mechanisms to address the physical aspects of any disaster, it is individual’s/ community’s resilience that enables them to cope up with the anxiety and trauma of the losses suffered. The psychological and emotional health is critical; it’s one of the crucial sources we draw our resilience from. How do we equip ourselves to deal with this situation?

Slipping into hopelessness is easy but unaffordable. One very effective way to ensure healthy emotional well-being could be the stories that heal; stories that show the compassion and empathy.

As a society, we do respond collectively. Within no time, hundreds and thousands of people took it upon themselves to support the needy and vulnerable. Our antidote for hopelessness and despair is hidden in stories of these people. When we hear about a person in a difficult condition herself but still helping another person, that does something within. Power lies in these acts of kindness from least expected quarters. They are mostly hidden, but in plenty. These are the stories that exist all around us, they just need to be seen and told. For our own sake. Let me share one such story of human compassion and empathy.

This is a story from Lalbagh Community at Mansarover Park, Shahdara where Koshish has been working for few years now. This is the settlement of about 300 families, mostly from de-notified communities. With loss of traditional occupations, current generation engages in multiple vocations like selling old clothes, Lemon-Chilli threads, drum players etc. The community survives on daily earnings and therefore has been facing a very difficult time since the Covid-19 situation arose.

Geographically, the community is located close to the road that goes to Anand Vihar, place that workers walked to, in the hope of boarding buses for their native places. On hearing the plight of walking workers, youth from the community decided to ‘do something’ to make the sufferings little bearable.

Themselves being out of work for over two months, there was little that people had, except for the hearts with rare ability to feel others’ pain and some grains they received as ‘relief support’. They decided to use the rations to feed these walking people. Several families came together and brought portions of whatever little ration they had on them.

Women of the community made chapatis while men prepared ‘khichdi’. Rotis were packed with pickle and group of youth went and distributed these packets to people walking back to their natives. These people used their meagre stocks but within two days they realised the risk this brought to their own survival. However, collectively they decided to continue this for as long as they had any ration left on them. Community ran this effort for more than a week.

When asked about what made them take such a step or if they felt worried about what would happen to them once all the ration finished, their simple response was , ‘we had few days food and we have roof on our head; people we are sharing our food with have their lives uprooted. Going hungry would be nothing if we can lessen the sufferings of our people in any way’. Such brave show of love and understanding of life is nothing short of an inspiration.

Something that even the government was not able to see but claimed that everybody was taken care of as people’s miseries continued, these poor people saw and responded.

Interestingly, it is not the first time when this community did something of this kind. Last month when we got our ration tempo to the community for distribution but could not reach there due to some logistical breakdown, and requested community volunteers to receive the grains and identify which families to be covered firstly, community held a meeting and decided to give away entire ration to 100 odd families that lived in proximity and have not received any help from anywhere. Extremely happy but a bit surprised, when we asked them the reason for such a decision, they explained how they received ration a week ago and could manage for few days where as the families that they gave their food to, didn’t have anything.

Covid-19 has created a crisis that probably remains unmatched in its reach and distress it has caused. The damage this pandemic has caused goes beyond physical health or the economy; it has threatened our emotional stability. It is such stories of human grit and kindness that we all need, to keep our souls healthy and alive.  It is important that mainstream media acknowledges this essential need of human beings and brings out these stories. These are the stories that need to be told; not for the individual actors of these stories but for the good of the larger society. Reading such positive stories can serve as the daily pill, giving much needed hope. If it is immunity that has helped people affected with coronavirus in recovery, mental preparation to beat the battle is a crucial aspect of that immunity. When there is a constant supply of news and information that trigger anxiety and panic, few stories bringing out the humane side will definitely help us take better control of our lives. At the time when systemic indifference is shaking our belief in ourselves, such act of selfless humanity shall provide reassurance. ‘Not all is lost’ is the feeling that often is the first step for path to victory!

Mohd Tarique is an Asst. Professor in TISS and Director of Koshish.


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