Lucknow: Sanjarpur, a Muslim-majority village of Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh, was once infamous for the involvement of three students from the area in the Batla house encounter. Now, however, it finds itself in the spotlight for helping India in its fights against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, there was an acute shortage of face masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across Uttar Pradesh. Scores of people in Azamgarh's Sanjarpur have banded together to sew face masks for hospitals that are running desperately short of PPEs, and are making it their mission to help common citizens, the poor in slums and passers-by. They took the call after reading that nurses and doctors in Lucknow's King George's Medical University and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, who are on the front-lines of the battle, are short on equipment. They decided to make face masks for people with immune deficiencies, doctors, nurses and anyone in the community who wants one.
About a dozen local medical store representatives and nurses have reached out, and Sanjarpur has continued with the work, distributing masks to the poor. People of Sanjarpur, including many women, say that their goal is to help as many people as possible and keep everyone safe during these uncertain times.
Masihuddin Sanjari, a resident of Sanjarpur and district coordinator of the Rihai Manch – an organisation that helps innocent persons implicated in fake terror cases and fights their legal battles — told NewsClick: “More than a mask, it is a question of awareness among poor people. People who can not afford masks were seen covering their face with a handkerchief. Local hospitals and medical stores scrambled for masks and a simple mask which cost Rs 1 in retail is selling here for between Rs 40 and Rs 50. How will poor people or daily-wagers afford it? This is what prompted us to sew face masks for everyone,” he added.
Accusing the government of not providing masks to people and exporting them to other countries, villagers said that it was the government’s duty to provide them with masks for free, but that they failed to deliver. “Contrary to WHO's advice to keep sufficient stock of ventilators and surgical masks, the Indian government allowed the export of all these things till March 19 just because of profit. Isn't this a criminal conspiracy?” Rajeev Yadav of Rihai Manch asked.
He further added: “Aside from distributing face masks, we are also counselling people who are not aware of coronavirus and do not know what precautions to take.”
From distributing face masks, providing food and sanitisers to contributing funds, many Uttar Pradesh-based NGOs and hospitals have united to help citizens and the government fight the virus.
Tarique Shafique said that there was a shortage of masks and that those who had them were selling them for Rs 100. Members of the poorer community cannot afford it, so “my friend Tabrez and executed the plan. Our main motive is to make people aware. We did not think there would be such a demand for it, but neighbouring villages are also asking for them.”
Shafique said that the masks are multilayered and better than the simple ones that are being used. “You can at least wash, sanitise and re-use it,” he said. He has spent about Rs 20,000 worth of supplies so far and distributed more than twelve hundred masks.