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The Constitution of India gives every Indian the right to live, eat and flourish, besides other rights. By taking the oath of the Constitution, our leaders enter Parliament, Assemblies and other representative bodies, but now this guarantee is in danger. Thousands are dying every day from covid and the government system is failing to protect them. When the state is gasping, some valorous people have risen from our midst. They are putting their lives and properties at stake, challenging the havoc created by the virus. In some places, groups of such people are working together, while there are some who are doing it on their own.

Let me take you to Ramnagar, a nondescript village in Uttar Pradesh with a population of 5,000. As many as 16 people, including five covid infected, died and more than 50 were infected in the village. When the government’s health assistance is proving insufficient for the metros, there was no scope to meet this small village’s needs. However, the people of Ramnagar did not give up. They collected money and created a corona relief bank. With this resource, they got basic things such as oximeters, thermometers and medicines. They even made some provision for isolation. Not only this, the entire village was constantly ‘sanitized’ and a quarantine centre was also established. Ramnagar is now an example for other villages after becoming completely covid-free.

In the western part of Uttar Pradesh, the people of 11 villages of Hapur proved to be more cautious. They administered their own lockdown restrictions as soon as the second wave took hold. No one has gone out of these villages for weeks, nor has anyone been allowed to come in. The result? So far, the pandemic could not even reach these villages. If such models were applied in other rural areas, there can certainly be a lot of protection. How could this have happened? Those engaged in cultivating political equations cannot be expected to be Gandhi or Vinoba.

Let me tell you another story of mutual cooperation. Harendra Gangwar, a teacher from Bareilly, died of covid. Unfortunately, he was not entitled to the state pension scheme. Yet, 19 lakh was deposited in his account in such a difficult time. How did this happen? A ‘self-care team’ made it possible. This team has been formed by those teachers who cannot be beneficiaries of government pension. Members contribute 100 from their pockets in case of the death of a colleague. There are more than 45,000 members in this group. Don’t you think that every effort should be made by governments to promote such groups?

The story of two friends from Roorkee, Ashu and Akash, is compassionate and inspiring. They were not lucky enough to be eligible to get help from any social institution or government. Their already vulnerable families were decimated by covid. Akash is a BCA student and has to pay fees to continue his studies. So, he started selling vegetables on an e-rickshaw with his friend Ashu. Now, they are in a position to fulfil the immediate needs of their families, with the hope of depositing the fees very soon.

There are thousands of young people who, despite being victims of adversity, did not waste time waiting for bailouts or doles. Whatever they had, they moved forward with that. There are many women who have taken up the responsibility of breastfeeding orphan children in their neighbourhood. Who says the tradition of Panna Dhai has died? You may remember that in this column published on 3 May, I had mentioned some people who are forgetting their grief and are busy collecting medicines for others. Such people have been creating India for centuries.

This time, calamity is teaching Indians as much as it’s harassing them. The rituals of last rites are also taking a new shape. In Varanasi, people of a Christian society renounced centuries-old customs. They first came to Manikarnika or Harishchand Ghat with the bodies of the infected people from their community and then cremated the ashes. Instead of the entire body, the ashes are being buried in the cemetery. Similarly, some people of Braj area, instead of immersing the ashes in the Ganga at Haridwar or Prayagraj, are doing this in the river Yamuna itself. Though there are a large number of urns of ashes at the crematoriums for which rituals need to be performed, the immersion of ashes in the Yamuna was not generally seen or heard of.

Today, when there is a feeling of disillusionment everywhere, such examples give hope. When society is struggling to fight together, what is our political class doing? They are indulging in mudslinging like a slugfest. Why don’t they understand that the changing society is sending some signals to them also?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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