[2013 update] Compassion: Blanket drive in the winter and the disability certification camp in Araria

What is the relationship between sangathan and compassion? Vibhore, an active volunter, has been asking this question for a long time. Given the precarious financial situation of our saathis, we are inundated by the news of life-impacting situations everyday. From roofs in urgent need of repairs before the rainy season to life-threatening diseases, the list is endless and overwhelming. But we keep trying our best, and the stories below are two of many examples that show our spirit to help is as strong as the spirit to fight for our rights.

Blanket drive in the winter

Last winter, we distributed around 300 blankets to landless laborers in Araria district, primarily elderly men and women without anyone to look after. It was triggered by the observation of JJSS karyakarta Arvind who noticed that many of our saathis did not have any protection against the cold, which hit record lows last year. He had shared this with Anivesh, a Delhi University (DU) student and JJSS volunteer, who in-turn reached out to his family and arranged for 100 blankets to be shipped to Araria. When we started distributing the same using local committees to identify the neediest, we realized that there are many more. We raised additional funds and distributed 200 more. All our saathis stepped-up and went beyond their own needs to find the most deserving recipients with some paperwork to back the distribution. The cold harsh winter felt a bit warmer because of this act of compassion of all our saathis.

Participating in the disability certification camp in Araria

On 14th May 2013 there was a camp organized by the Araria block office for on-the-spot processing of disability certificates. Beneficiaries were being given a yellow card after examination by the orthopedic doctor in attendance, all free of cost. But the Primary Health Centre (PHC) worker responsible for issuing the cards decided to sell the blank cards for Rs. 50 each. This heart wrenching incident of making money from the weakest and disabled section of our society only stopped after the intervention of JJSS karyakartas. We made him apologize and return part of his ‘earnings’ as fine, but questions about who else was involved, what was their percentage cut (pc), and how there is no respite for the poor continued to remain with us.

So, on the 2nd day of the camp, we reached the block office at 10am, only to find a crowd and no PHC staff. For the next two hours, we helped complete the forms that people had purchased for Rs. 10 from the nearby shops. Not having any information other than what they had heard from the local panchayats and intermediaries, many had come for orthopedic disability, for which no doctor was available that day. The rest had come for eye, speech, hearing, and mental disabilities. Eventually, when the PHC staff came, they informed that only eye doctor was available. So, all the forms had to be rechecked and only eye related were retained. The rest were sent back with neither assurance nor any concern for their time and money wasted due to Government’s inefficiency.

Meanwhile, controlling the crowd full of middlemen was a difficult task, but by reading out names, proactively disseminating information, and forming queues, we were able to get them organized. The entire process was quite cumbersome and the staff routinely lost interest in the process. So, we kept pitching-in and by the end of the day, 163 applications had been fully processed and cards issued. Even the PHC staff remarked that they had never achieved more than 100 cards in a day, showing that a lot is possible with bit of organization. But the number of unnecessary applications with zero disability accounted for over 50% of the cards, which showed that government has managed to turn ordinary hard-working people into desperate and dependent benefit-seekers.

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