Bhopal: Protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, (CAA), who were once called anarchists and were beaten and suppressed by the state government for carrying out rallies and holding protests, have turned lifesavers in Madhya Pradesh during the lockdown.
Risking their lives, these anti-CAA protesters have been trying save others in a fight against the pandemic and hunger.
These COVID-19 fighters have been feeding more than 3 lakh people each day out of their own pockets or though crowd funding. They are reaching out to those who have been overlooked by the administration since the lockdown was imposed on March 25.
Although the voice of dissent against the CAA was raised in more than a dozen districts in the State, in the five major ones – Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Chhindawara and Seoni – the protesters were on indefinite strikes for months.
Nevertheless, with the lockdown in place and with COVID-19 declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, they (anti-CAA protesters) called off their strikes and put their resources together to feed the people. They are doing it by forming small groups in their localities with the help of local youth and NGOs, establishing small kitchens in the area and ensuring that no one sleeps hungry and is deprived of medical aid, if necessary.
Since they know their localities and the people well, they are helping medical staff and cops to conduct hassle-free screening in the area. “After reports of the incidents of attacks on medical staff and cops came in, they are volunteering to help the medical team reach each home and are advising residents to cooperate with them in conducting screening,” said Vijay Kumar, one of the architects behind the anti-CAA protest in the State.
Abid Khan, another of those who had protested against the CAA said that most protesters were literate people with a fair understanding of “right and wrong. So, when the lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19, they called off the protest, formed small groups in their localities and began helping the needy on their own.”
Addressing the media, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also applauded the selfless efforts of social help groups who have been helping and feeding those in need during the lockdown.
India’s cleanest city had witnessed extensive protests against the CAA, but has now reported more than thousand cases of the novel coronavirus with 57 deaths till date. The city has the fourth-highest number of cases in the country after Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai.
In such high-risk times, anti-CAA protesters are distributing ration kits to more than 500 families every day. A kit can feed a family of five for about a week.
“We have created small groups to help people and distribute ration kits in the major parts of the city including Chandan Nagar, Khajrana, Garib Nawaz Basti, Rani Pura, Azad Nagar and other places depending on the requirement,” said Razi Qadri, the member of a self-help group and an anti-CAA protester. Each kit has 5 kgs of flour, 5 kgs of rice, 3 kgs of cooking oil, 2 kgs of pulses, 1 kg of sugar and 2 kgs of potatoes, said Qadri.
His group has passes for 15 members and two loading vehicles which run to and fro in the entire city. “After the attack on police personnel and doctors in some parts of Indore, we deployed one of our group members in each area to volunteer with medical staff and help avoid such incidents. Such attacks are unfortunate,” said Sayyed Nazim Ali.
Just like them, many NGOs and self-help groups came forward to help the needy and are working shoulder-to-shoulder with the district administration. “We have to stand together against this pandemic. We will sort out our differences with the Government once we defeat the coronavirus,” said Zayed Pathan, another member of the group.
The State capital had witnessed some of the biggest anti-CAA protests and rallies. People had been on an indefinite strike since December last year at the historic Iqbal Maidan of the walled city.
After four weeks of lockdown, the city has more than 300 cases and eight deaths have been reported till date. Daily wage labourers and workers are finding it difficult to feed their families and there had been a suicide due to hunger in Bhopal recently.
To help such families in dire need, more than 50 kitchens including two to three for kids have been running round the clock in the various parts of the city.
“These kitchens have been feeding more than one lakh people each day including kids,” said Javed Beg, a former BJP leader and the architect behind the anti-CAA protests in Bhopal. He added that most of the are kitchens run by protesters.
However, as cases of COVID-19 grow in Bhopal, the district administration shut all the kitchens with an aim to reduce footfall on the roads and asked Bhopal Municipal Corporation to meet the demand.
“However, the administration was forced to reopen the kitchen as news of hunger and starvation was reported by the media in the city. Now, various NGOs and social groups are feeding lakhs of people each day in the State capital,” said Seema Karup of Jansampark Bhopal.
Jansampark Bhopal is a group of anti-CAA protesters who had been on an indefinite strike against the CAA in the state capital. Just like in Indore and Bhopal, which accounted for close to 80 % of cases of COVID-19 in M.P., anti-CAA protesters in Jabalpur, Ujjain, Seoni and Chhindawar have also been helping the needy.