From the Covid-recovered donating their plasma in UP, Delhi, Bengaluru, Guwahati and Surat to opening shelters for returning migrants in Bihar; from distributing food packets in West Bengal to providing masks and sanitisers in Karnataka; from donating TV sets for students to access virtual classes in Kerala to organising vehicles during the lockdown in Chhattisgarh — and helping conduct the last rites of victims in Maharashtra.
For the RSS and its nationwide network, the Covid outbreak and the lockdown have brought about a realignment in strategy — shakha activities on the ground are on hold and, instead, the entire machinery has been redirected to outreach and relief work.
Column| The Sangh and sewa
“During the lockdown, 5.07 lakh volunteers distributed over 4.66 crore food packets and helped over 44.86 lakh migrant laborers. And since the lockdown ended, we have been helping labourers get their jobs back,” says Parag Abhyankar, who heads the RSS’s Seva Vibhag.
According to him, relief efforts were kickstarted by an appeal issued on April 26, a month after the lockdown was imposed, by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat: “Our seva (service) must be without bias. Seva is not an obligation but our duty.”
According to the organisation, the vibhag ran over 92,000 relief centres in five months. The other measures include: 483 medicine distribution centres; donation of blood by over 60,000 workers; and, distribution of over 73.8 lakh ration kits.
The decision to focus on relief measures came after the outbreak put all major activities of the group on hold. The annual Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Bengaluru in March was cancelled. Another key annual event, the fund-raiser called Gurudakshina, was postponed from July to September 15.
During this period, many workers and leaders, including joint publicity chief Sunil Ambekar, were infected with four deaths — two in MP, one in Maharashtra and another in Bihar. Today, the group’s Delhi office is almost empty with leaders spreading out across the country.
From Bengal to Kerala, leaders of the RSS and its affiliates, such as Seva Bharati and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, said that focus has shifted fully to relief work. The key highlights:
Maharashtra: Over 26,000 volunteers at 6,277 locations. Over 10 lakh ration kits, over 87 lakh meals and over 5 lakh masks and sanitisers provided. Assistance for over 1 lakh nomadic families. Over 24,000 people donated blood at camps. Over 4,000 volunteers received training from municipal corporations on using PPE kits. Over 1,000 temporary health facilities catered to 2 lakh people. “Over 100 volunteers also helped conduct the last rites of those who had no family support,” said Upendra Kulkarni, the region’s welfare chief.
West Bengal: Food items, cooked food, masks, sanitisers and medical awareness sessions for 2.5 lakh families. Food packets, each with 5 kg rice, 1 kg pulses, 3 kg potatoes and 250-300g of salt and cooking oil, distributed weekly, including to over 500 women in red-light areas. The group also opened over 80 camps for migrant workers, and medical helplines, said Jishnu Basu, secretary (South Bengal).
Bihar: “We provided food packets and bottled water to migrants returning on special trains. Our volunteers also distributed masks, sanitisers and food grain,” said Ramdutt Chakradhar, a state office-bearer.
Rajasthan: Distribution of ration and food packets, preparing masks, shelters for migrants and blood donation camps. “We have also helped set up stalls of fruits and vegetables, small businesses and farmers’ groups,” said an office-bearer. In Jaipur, over 12,600 workers distributed over 22 lakh food packets, 2 lakh family ration kits and homeopathic medicines for over 52,000 people.
Chhattisgarh: Volun-teers reached over 2 lakh beneficiaries with food, ration, masks, soap and sanitisers. Vehicles arranged for over 1,000 people to reach home during the lockdown, apart from awareness campaigns, blood donation drives and counselling sessions. “We helped people on the highway, and in tribal villages and cities,” said Surendra Kumar, state publicity chief.
Karnataka: Over 8,400 volunteers distributed 71,667 ration kits, 1,04,377 food packets and 51,920 masks to over 3.17 lakh beneficiaries. Food and ration distribution was carried out in Bengaluru, Bagalkot, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Hubballi and Shivamogga, and blood donation camps conducted.
Kerala: Seva Bharati’s 42,000 volunteers distributed food packets, grocery kits and medicine. They helped local bodies prepare Covid centres and took part in sanitation campaigns. Seva Bharati also distributed TV sets for students to access virtual classes. “So far, 42 lakh families in Kerala have benefited from our voluntary work,’’ said Gopalankutty Master, state general secretary.
(With ENS inputs from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala)
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