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Help, but do not disgrace!

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BY: Shabeer  Rather/Peerzada Umer

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught world on back-foot. Everything is on standstill. Economies are shrinking, jobs are diminishing, poverty is rising and most importantly death toll is soaring. There is global slowdown, recession has been pronounced. The businesses are shut; there is nothing normal, and potentially may not be for quite some time!  All nations are struggling or fighting the invisible but common and collective enemy – a virus of the cadres of SARS and MERS. So far all affected countries have considered lockdown an option rather only option to contain the spread of virus. The consequences or challenges therefore are similar for all.

Managing hunger, medicine and social unrest (potentially leading to food riots) as anticipated by sociologists are the few common challenges. Managing hunger is the toughest challenge especially for developing countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. Managing medicines, essential medical equipment and medical support to patients also isn’t going to be an easy and smooth task considering the dwindling allocation of funds to the heath sector in the last few years, which for instance currently stands at 1.7 percent of its GDP for India. Another most daunting challenge is of course, safety of the front-line medical workers in which places like J&K are highly under-prepared.

Fortunately, besides government packages or aids, we have so many social organizations working globally or regionally, in towns, districts or even in the villages, providing food, medicines and other essentials to those in need. Various social organizations have come forward to provide food to the poor daily-wagers and migrant workers. Disparate as well as indistinguishable volunteers are reaching out to the famished.

We have to take care of each other irrespective of caste, color, creed or religion. There is a threat to whole human race. The decisive fight and triumph over COVID-19 pandemic is a distant dream unless everyone volunteers according to his/her enabling capabilities. The countries with highly sophisticated, advanced and modernized medical systems are failing to contain it. They are rather losing the fight day in and day out.

We the natives Jammu and Kashmir are no less fortunate as wee too have a social activist in almost each household, social organizations in every village, district, town and city. The enthusiasm of social service is almost in every individual, it’s rather ingrained in their very identities. We have more accounts of social activists and pages of social organizations active on social media as compared to any other part of the world. Some do it to please themselves only, some to please the society, and some do it to please God by serving humanity. For us, all are right and deserve appreciation at the first place. To go out when all are advised to stay inside is a commendable and of course a brave job to do.

Different people do the social work with different “intent” and having different “motivations”, especially during the complex and difficult circumstances like the ongoing pandemic. For the sake of understanding, let’s break down the intents:

  1. Those who do it as duty: They contribute in personal capacities without keeping the rewards in mind. They see it as a part of their duty and not charity. They are drawn to social groups or organizations specifically because they are interested in and care for the people who are in need.
  2. Those who do it to show-off bravery: Some people come out to show bravery — that they don’t fear the thing that has put world under lockdown. They pretend their fortitude doesn’t waver amidst the global fear, even when this bravery can be a recipe for disaster for them in particular and for all in general. In times like this one should think of the potential of the virus. With R naught or reproduction number (a standard metric for infectiousness) between 2-2.5, one infected person can infect 36 times more people than the seasonal flu (R-naught of 1.6) after 10 rounds of infection. They don’t care about the consequences, but help the needy directly or indirectly.
  3. Those who do it for public acclaim or political mileage: This types of activists have either open or hidden agenda particularly in the places like Kashmir. Such activists are not driven to a cause through loyalty to an organization, a political party or a candidate. They present themselves as activists with or without the organization. They have close affiliations with the system. System actually harbors them. Such activists act as the bridge between the system and the alienated population. Besides helping the needy, they try to create a soft corner for particular organization, group, candidate or party among the people. These groups or individuals generally have future political ambitions.
  4. Those who are professional social workers: These people earn their livelihood by doing social work. They usually work with well established organizations. These organizations believe they can make immediate difference. Not the individuals but the organization has to see general decisions like how and where to utilize the resources.

The contribution of everybody in whatsoever capacity matters at the moment, even the one who feeds a stray dog is not doing less than other. As once American historian and a social activist said “Small acts when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the people.”

These are times when collective efforts matter more than the individual efforts. The NGOs and all those who are actively participating in fight against a collective threat are helping to save the humanity.

The peculiar geopolitical circumstances of the Valley have taught essential lessons to the people — to unite and make stronger community relations, which is reflected by the support people are lending to each other. But at the same time it is imperative for us to reflect on our actions, as an individual who is lending a helping hand to those in need or as a community providing essential support or as an organisation working for the noble cause. We should reflect on our intentions and put them to rational scrutiny.

Though not denigrating the intent of anybody’s actions, some activists are apparently committing mistakes (may be unintentionally) as they take videos and pictures of the people whom they helped. It may give them a sense of self-worth and personal joy, but the sensitivity of the people in need shouldn’t be ignored.

“Please avoid the photography. This is not right time for it. I have received repeated requests from people that they desperately need food but ‘madam please hamari photo net pa nai dalna’ (please do not upload our photos on Internet later),” posted one of the social activists in her organizations whatsapp group.

“Bah rateh teli relief agr tohee photo tulu neh keh. Nat che behtr aseh maroo fakai (I will only accept your relief if you do not click my pictures; or it’s better to starve to death,” says the audio of a man with the activist.

If not now, it may psychologically haunt them later after the pandemic disappears. We should be careful of the sensitivity of the work and sentiments of those who are now at receiving ends. The way to do it is to think of it as an opportunity to serve, to contribute without keeping incentives in minds. We are dealing with a highly sensitive thing – the emotions of the people, their self-esteem and self-respect. We cannot overlook or undermine it while trying to help them.

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