Extending their support to people facing hardships, especially the migrant labourers during the nationwide lockdown, residents of Surat in Gujarat have donated food packets worth Rs 100 crore so far. Known as “laghu Bharat” (mini India), the city houses workers from 22 states of the country. Also, various institutions, organisations, NGOs and religious groups were seen feeding around 6 lakh people daily. This is also said to be one of India’s biggest donation or charity operations during the nationwide lockdown feeding over half a million on a daily basi.

A large number of civic organisations are working on the ground, with around 500 officially registered with the administration. A total of 3.35 crore food packets, each costing Rs 15- 20, have been distributed. Also, more than 56,000 medical kits, each consisting of gloves, masks and sanitisers and costing Rs 300 each, were distributed to the needy.

The diamond merchants’ associations, the builders’ associations, the industrial units’ associations, and many such associations have pledged to take care of their employees to ensure migrant labourers’ welfare. Surat, according to the Mahabharata, is the place where Karna’s last rites were performed. Karna is known as “danveer” (great donor) and also, there is a local saying that “nobody sleeps with a hungry stomach in Surat.”

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This was evident when people from all walks of life started coming out to help each other during these tough times. An Odia migrant, Dhaneshwar Jenna, for instance, didn’t think twice in spending the savings raised by him and his wife for his 4-year-old son’s education in an English-medium school for this noble cause. Another man named Jignesh Gandhi donated the money he had saved to buy his “dream car”.

Jignesh has so far spent a whopping Rs 40 lakh, feeding hundreds of needy twice a day, serving milk and masks. Dinesh Rajpurohit, a hotelier and a social worker, who started by feeding 500 people after ‘Janta Curfew’ was announced is now feeding around 4,500 people per day. In addition, he also supplied masks, PPEs, sanitisers and train fares for migrants. Many societies decided to make two ‘rotis’ extra from every household to feed the underprivileged cluster near their location, without violating the lockdown norms.

The city is the only parliamentary constituency which gave us a Deputy Prime Minister and a Prime Minister in Morarji Desai. With a population of about 5 million, this has been one the fastest growing cities in the world since the 1970s. Its population grew by 68 per cent in the decade from 2001 to 2011, against the national average of 14 per cent. But, after 24 March, when lockdown was declared, it became difficult for labourers in factories and daily wage earners to get their ends met.

Following the age-old tradition of Surat, the Municipal Corporation and local government authorities gave a call for help. And, people in Surat rose to the occasion, letting a ceaseless flow of human compassion. Day-and-night kitchen services were started by various individuals and groups, organisations and institutions, to feed the needy. Notably, due to collective efforts, the city has also been declared a garbage-free city in 2020 and has been among the cleanest cities in India for years now.

According to ‘worldometer’ info, the Maldives has a population of 5.16 lakh as of 2018. So, Surat serving around 6 lakh people daily is like serving the entire Maldives on a daily basis. This was done with 3Cs — compassion, coordination and consistency. When the last of the 445 Shramik trains departed Surat, a record seven lakh odd migrant workers were enabled to reach their native places safely. The people of Surat are also active in organ donation, blood donation, eye donation and body donation, giving alms and food to the homeless in normal times. But this time during Covid-19 crisis, people here surpassed all the previous records of donations. The city showed how to fight a pandemic, with humanity and compassion intact.

Yuvraj Pokharna is an Engineer turned Educationist and Social Activist from Surat who keeps a keen eye on contemporary issues including social media,politics and Government Policies.

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