“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”
These words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau have a new meaning in this pandemic. People are free, and yet in the clutches of unemployment. They are alive during the times of democracy, and yet cannot break free from the shackles of hunger and fear that is suffocating them. They are bound together by the same emotional roller-coaster, and yet they are forced to be 6ft apart.
With the imposition of the national lockdown from 25th March, 2020, India set foot in what would turn out to be an excruciating battle of survival. With the whole world talking about “flattening the curve”, another curve made itself visible in the country - the curve of hunger and destitution; and the latter shot up like a bullet.
Meghdutam Foundation, an non-governmental and non-profitable body, found it incumbent on them to fulfil their social responsibility in such times of crisis. From the second week of April, we targeted those marginalized sections of urban Kolkata and rural Bengal where the lockdown had squeezed the last penny from each individual. Our aim was simple : providing a supply of essential stuffs consisting of parboiled rice, lentils , pulses, potatoes, biscuits, cooking oil, baby food and sanitizers to anyone in dire need of help. We began our relief endeavours with the sex workers and their children of the Red Light Area of Kolkata, and the potters and craftsmen of Kumortuli (the potters’ headquarters of Kolkata, famous for its clay idols). Then our efforts quickly spread to an orphanage in Digha called Antordoy where the children had gone hungry for two days, orphanage Bodhan , a specialized intuition for children suffering from cerebral-palsy in Kolkata, villages in South 24 Parganas from Mathurapur II , Manmathanagr , Biordaspur and catchment areas of Sunderbans , newspaper delivery personnel’s, rickshaw pullers, slum dwellers, and anyone who reached out to us for help. Alongside this mission, we also decided to support the education of all the children of Kumortuli for the current academic session, since a lack of income for their parents and the social disadvantage faced in the form of an inability to engage in virtual learning were sure to hamper their schooling.
Then came another catastrophe. As if the pandemic’s disastrous impact wasn’t enough, Kolkata and southern Bengal were struck by a super-cyclone on 20th May. This cataclysmic cyclone, titled Amphan, unleashed a reign of destruction on people who had already reached their saturation point of fighting with adversity. While the virus compelled the world to stay indoors, there were people who no longer had a place to take shelter. What were once temporary houses in rural villages, now only had clay ovens standing in the middle of an open field to indicate that there was once a home there.
Relief for Amphan victims is very different from the lockdown relief. The demand shifted to a requirement of dry food stuffs and tarpaulin. In light of such developments, Meghdutam Foundation started visiting different villages in Sunderbans, the fastest growing delta in the world and the worst affected area after the cyclone, to provide the people there with essentials food relief such as puffed rice, flattened rice, sugar cakes, baby food, roasted barley, biscuits, drinking water, mosquito nets and tarpaulin. The condition of people there is beyond imagination for anyone who hasn’t seen it in person - they don’t even have fresh water to drink, let alone food to eat and a roof to sleep under. We have not even scraped the surface, and the requirements are colossal.
As we complete 75 days of our efforts to provide relief, we have touched more than 8000 lives till 15 June 2020, and shall continue with our work. As the privileged classes fight to return to normalcy, we should not forget those who have no normalcy to return to as of now.
Ultimately, service to man is service to God.
Swaguna and Jaydeep Mukherjee
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With the imposition of the national lockdown from 25th March, 2020, India set foot in what would turn out to be an excruciating battle of survival for present and future.