(Part I of a two-part series)
I am a volunteer with the Civil Defence Corps, a voluntary force under the Ministry of Home Affairs trained various capacities for disaster management. I have received training at state and national levels and have participated in rescue efforts in various places across Karnataka. I am also a team member of the Quick Response team, which tackles disaster-related issues in Bengaluru city.
The vision of Capt. Manikanan I.A.S, Principal Secretary of Departments of Labour and Information & Publicity, Govt. of Karnataka, was instrumental during this Covid-19 pandemic. We were called for volunteering at a time difficult for individuals to choose to heed this call and explain and convince their parents and families to agree to it.
Around 60 among us got a message on our Civil Defence group from the office of Captain Sir for team training and induction around 22nd March 2020. The vertical heads gave us a formal briefing of our tasks, which were essentially to create awareness about the pandemic, deliver medicines, distribute food, and pack groceries.
I was to lead a team of volunteers for one police station in North Bengaluru under North Deputy Commissioner of Police’s jurisdiction as I stayed in the same area. I started connecting with my team members who, I did not know then, were going to be my strength for the next few weeks. We took formal charge of our duties with Station in-charge and Inspector of Police Shri Sanjeev Gowda explaining to us the foremost requirement: creating awareness about social distancing and lockdown rules among the locals.
We were aware that we were now going to try make people understand and adhere to rules not followed in our lifetimes. We divided into smaller teams of five people each and started conducting awareness rounds, training people in social distancing. In the next few days, during our rounds, we also started identifying pet stores and checking if they stayed open to feed pets in our area.
The police provided us with autorickshaws to make announcements and play the recorded version of lockdown rules publicly. Hari, Yogendra Rao and Madan drove them. Soon, a few more volunteers joined us, and we were able to delegate some of these tasks to them. This got us an occasional break as well as more time to handle newer responsibilities coming our way.
After a couple of days, I was told to take up the additional charge of distributing food in the area covered by 15 police stations under the North jurisdiction. I was aware that this would take most of my time and spare none for other work, but I had no choice. I started with a team of 30+ members from different walks of life, from CEOs and software professionals, to students and civil defence volunteers, to businesspersons.
We all knew that our task was not only important, but also a bit delicate. We readied ourselves to set the ball rolling, armed with an Excel sheet full of names and addresses of the people we were to cater to and some extra food packets for those who were needy, but could not make it to the Excel sheet.
For the next few weeks, this would be our routine. Every day, every team member took as many extra food packets as they could so that could make sure no one, as far as possible, went hungry. We kept getting calls and messages from migrant labourers’ groups working in different places, going hungry without food for days. I was distressed to see these messages and started searching for ways to help them.
I shared this issue with a friend of mine, Deepesh Shah, who was also looking for ways to help people but couldn’t due to lockdown constraints. His family open-heartedly donated funds for this cause and told me to ask for more when the funds dried up.
These funds enabled us to feed around 150-200 people in and around government hospitals, basically family members of admitted patients, in the 2nd week of the lockdown. My team members Shrivishnu, Arjun and Mahesh provided them with meals for the next one week. However, we had to stop as the hospital security staff demanded we carry a letter from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike authorities. While we understood the reasons for this requirement, we couldn’t afford to spend the time and manpower required to obtain it, so we let it go.
This also gave us another insight: if there were so many hungry people, then there would be hungry stray animals too. Our team started buying biscuits and feeding any dog or cattle we came across on our rounds.
One day we received a message to check on a senior citizens’ care centre. A Tweet mentioned that they were running out of food and medicines. On the same day, I also received another assignment, this time to check on a quarantine centre whose inmates had complained in a Twitter message about lack of proper food and cleanliness.
On visiting the senior citizens’ care centre, I was both happy and angry, happy that they were not actually facing shortages of food or medicines, and angry with the people who had falsely claimed so. The same thing happened at the quarantine centre. A team member and I met up with the doctors in charge of the centre, who took us to the dormitories where the people in question, 56 in all, were quarantined. Someone had again messaged wrongly; the place was neat enough and I spotted sufficient food tea and coffee flasks of about 2 – 2.5 litres kept for them. As it was my duty, I reported the situation to the higher authorities.
Some days later, we received another message that an NGO for orphaned girls was facing shortage of food. We went there, enquired, and took the caretakers to a nearby store where we bought for them the necessary groceries. However, when a message appealing for help for the same NGO began circulating on our groups, I was shocked. I spoke to other team leaders in our area and appraised them with details of the groceries my team had provided to the NGO. We then learnt that the NGO was now trying to hoard groceries for coming days, and upon inspection, saw that they had enough groceries to last the next couple of months.
In the 2nd week of April 2020, we also started receiving calls from senior citizens. They were told not to step out of their houses due to their vulnerability to coronavirus and required medicines and groceries to be delivered to their homes. My team members Yogendra, Sandeep and Aditya helped me meet these requirements and were truly satisfied as they had all joined to volunteer for this.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.