Red Volunteer Movement in West Bengal
Kolkata: VI Lenin's birthday on April 22 is observed as the Red Volunteers Day. Across West Bengal, Red Volunteers celebrated the day by organising blood donation and free health check-up camps, flag-hoisting events, cultural programs, documentary screenings, etc. Tree plantation and 'make it plastic-free area' programs were also held in several places.
Some volunteers took to social media to educate people about the benefits of sanitation and hygiene. In one of the posts, a volunteer outlined how the Red Volunteer teams helped people during the various waves of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing home-cooked meals, medicines, oxygen cylinders, etc.
"Let us remember and pay our respects to our fellows and friends, comrades-in-arms who have sacrificed their precious lives while standing by the side of helpless citizens. We are Red Volunteers, proudly," the post read.
People of the state also acknowledged the efforts of the Red Volunteers. One person wrote, "Today is Red Volunteers Day. Red volunteers mean the hope of survival. Today the whole country is looking for you. Hats off to you people. I wish you more success and wish you all the best. I will be with you always, no matter what situation comes. More power to you people."
COVID-19 struck India in the early month of 2020. The Union government announced a nationwide lockdown in the latter half of March 2020. As the lockdown was announced, several Red Volunteer teams were formed in different parts of West Bengal, which helped citizens during the first wave of the pandemic.
Before the second wave hit the state in April-May 2021, the Amphan cyclone caused devastation in North Bengal, disrupting the entire infrastructure in the region. The situation worsened further with the second wave. At the time, thousands of young people and students worked on the ground to help those affected by the cyclone and COVID-19. Red Volunteer teams were critical in helping with the relief efforts, often arriving at the doorsteps of COVID patients with oxygen cylinders and medicines.
The teams were formed on block and panchayat levels and composed of Left activists, primarily the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) members. Red Volunteers used social media, particularly Facebook, to mobilise people and coordinate resources.
Such was the support for their efforts that the members of a Facebook group called Red Volunteers increased from 8,000 to 80,000 in a week. At present, the group has around 1,35,000 members. As the volunteers were scattered across the state, social media helped them connect and reach out to common people.
Throughout the second wave, volunteers received messages from people who required immediate help. Volunteers worked tirelessly and provided masks, PPE kits, medicines, financial aids, etc. In many regions, initiatives such as Sramajibi canteen, free clinic and blood test camps, Sramajibi market, cab service, etc., were undertaken. Even after the defeat of the Left front in the state Assembly elections in May 2021, the support for Red Volunteers increased. Their efforts were not only acknowledged on social media, people also praised them at tea stalls, markets and other public places.
Even as the COVID-19 situation eased, Red Volunteers continue to help people with neighbourhood blood-donation camps, cloth distribution, educational material, etc. Some initiatives got halted due to a lack of funds, but things like Sramajibi canteens, free blood test centres and free health check-up clinics continue.
The crumbling health infrastructure in the state is proving detrimental to the poor and marginalised people. In such a situation, one expects the state government to come to the aid of the people, but this hasn't been the case. The government's dereliction of duty will not be forgotten. People will also not forget how Red Volunteers continue to help people, fight for their rights, work for the environment, etc. Red Volunteers are determined to be there whenever people need help.
Abin Mitra is an activist who has been one of the primary coordinators of the Red Volunteer movement in West Bengal.
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