Compassion is probably the most beautiful emotion humans can ever experience. In compassion lies the answer to the biggest of challenges, and strength to tide over any obstacle. Today, the world is faced with an unprecedented crisis and nothing seems to be containing the deadly COVID-19. However, in the middle of this massive crisis, we are also experiencing some great human stories. These are stories of empathy and integrity; these are stories of ‘care’ and ‘compassion’. Here, I’ll tell a story about a forgotten community and its act of selfless kindness, carried out in the most unassuming manner.
I work with an organisation named ‘Koshish’. It’s a field action project by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and we have interventions in Bihar, Maharashtra and Delhi. This is the story of Lalbagh community at Mansarovar Park in the East Delhi region, where Koshish has been working for the past few years.
There is a settlement of about 300 families, comprising mainly of two communities: Mahavat and Kapadia. While both the communities have been living in the area for well over 40 years, like most homeless groups, they, too, kept getting displaced every few years, moving to nearby areas. Many of these families have been living in their current location for about 15-18 years now. With loss of traditional occupations, the current generation engages in vocations like selling old clothes, lemon-chilli threads, playing drums, or other casual labor work. Most of these people do not receive any entitlement or benefits from the State’s schemes or programmes.
Almost an invisible group, these people live a highly vulnerable life. They survive on their daily earnings, and therefore have been facing difficulties since the COVID-19 situation arose. The community has been dependent on the relief material provided by voluntary groups. And uncertainty about future work opportunities is only making their situation more vulnerable.
However, this vulnerability and challenging time failed to temper the core that these people are made up of. It is their act of kindness and compassion during this hour of crisis that makes their story an extraordinary one. Two days ago, when our supply of dry ration was supposed to arrive, the person who was coordinating did not inform us on time, and the driver of the tempo that was to bring the ration called my colleague Prem just a few minutes before reaching the area.
The vehicle for which we have a pass was not available, and therefore reaching the area was not possible. He called up our community volunteers and explained to them the situation, asking them to not only receive the ration, but also identify the families in the community that required ration urgently.
In an amazingly beautiful show of empathy, these volunteers, along with the Pradhans of the community, held a quick meeting and decided that instead of distributing the ration in the community, they should distribute it to the families in the nearby areas as they had received the information that those families did not have anything to eat (We had provided ration in this community 10 days ago, and 3-4 days ago, another voluntary group had come to give them ration, leaving them with ration to last them for another week or so).
These volunteers identified some 50 odd families from the nearby area and invited them to come to the community, turn by turn, giving them the ration packets. There is another settlement nearby with 50 odd families that needed food. The entire ration was distributed to these 100 families without any hesitation; all planned and executed by the community volunteers.
At a time when people are uncertain about their own survival, it would have been only an obvious decision for them to keep the ration for themselves. Instead, they decided to support people who had nothing on them. Isn’t it beautiful? Is this not a valid counter to the popular narrative that is often played for poor people in general and more specifically the homeless?
The knowledge that they would be taken care of, might have played a small role in their decision. But it is solely their compassion and integrity that was instrumental in this.
I believe, more than anything else, it is this love and empathy our people possess, which enables us to see through all kinds of disasters and difficult times. COVID-19 has created an unprecedented crisis, no doubt about it, but our people too have an unmatched ability to care and empathise with others. The coronavirus can never win over this essence of humanity.
It is experiences like these that give hope and confidence for a better world. There can never be a bigger inspiration than these human stories where nothing but kindness forms the core.