It was while distributing free ration to the needy in her village, Chaka Gopalpur in Odisha’s Jajpur district, that India’s ace sprinter Dutee Chand realised she needed to do more for the women she met. So on her next visit, she added sanitary pads to the provisions packet that had rice, sugar, and some namkeen.
The Bhubaneswar-based Asian medallist, and the state’s top celebrity, thought of giving back to the village after receiving several SOS messages from those she had grown up with. With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing a total lockdown and employment opportunities drying up, Jajpur looked towards Dutee. And she didn’t disappoint, arriving in her SUV loaded with groceries and sanitary pads.
“People need all the help they can get during this coronavirus pandemic and food is on the top of everyone’s mind. But we do forget there are other essential things, which people need but may not talk about openly,” Dutee told The Indian Express.
“Sanitary pads are very important for the health and hygiene of women. But in villages, it is not available at the moment and women won’t talk about the shortage. Also, they can’t afford it now because no household has income and whatever money they have, they use it for food. Sanitary pads cost Rs 50 to Rs 60 per packet at least. Medical shops are also shut most of the time near my village.”
Jajpur district has the second-highest number of cases in Odisha – 60 including 58 active ones – as per the latest update on the website of the state’s department of health and family welfare. It accounts for 15.3 percent of the Coronavirus cases in the state behind Ganjam district with 137 cases, as on Monday morning. On Sunday, Odisha saw 82 new cases, with a number of migrant workers who have returned to the state testing positive.
Dutee distributed the provisions at the village square and took the trouble to go to each house to give the sanitary pads to the women. “I wasn’t sure if women would be comfortable coming out to take sanitary pad packets. So, I went to each home,” Dutee says, adding that she took all precautions and wore Personal Protection Equipment. “I gave them 1000 packets, with rice, sugar and others provisions. I also distributed 1,000 packets of sanitary pads. If they need something like sanitary pads, they have to travel at least 5 to 6 kilometres, which is not possible because of the lockdown and people want to be careful and not venture out because Coronavirus cases are being reported. Nobody is going to come and give women sanitary pads in such circumstances because food is understandably a priority,” she added.
Dutee paid from her own pocket and also requested the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in Bhubaneswar, where she is pursuing a degree in law, to help with funds.
Dutee is also part of the official campaign of the state’s youth and services department, which advises people to maintain social distancing. ‘Stay in today. Come out and cheer for me tomorrow’ is the message of a social media post with an image of Dutee lacing up her shoes. “People of every state have to do their bit to ensure the virus does not spread. At the same time, those who are in a good position must help those who need help. In Odisha, I am trying to ensure the right message goes out.”