From inmates in jails to beggars on the streets, the perceived social outcasts have joined the other commoners in West Bengal to contribute to a COVID-19 relief fund, exemplifying the solidarity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Friday (April 3) called for in the fight against the pandemic.
A group of 30 vagabonds in the north Bengal town of Siliguri recently chipped in every penny they could to collect to donate ₹400 to the Chief Minister’s relief fund constituted by Mamata Banerjee to obtain financial support from citizens in her government’s effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The contribution, though a small amount, assumes great significance since it comes at a time when regular flow of alms to the city’s beggars have dried up following thinning of footfalls on the streets due to the ongoing lockdown, points out Shakti Pal, a member of the Unique Welfare Society, an NGO that facilitated the handing over of the money to the local authority on Thursday.
Prime Minister Modi had on Friday urged the citizens to light a candle or a diya, or flash a torchlight or mobile flash for nine minutes at 9 pm on April 5 to show that India’s 1.3 billion people are united in this battle against the contagion.
However, much before Modi made the appeal, these mendicants had already set an example by putting the national cause ahead of their hardships. Some of them contributed ₹2, some ₹5, while that from others ranged between ₹10 and ₹50, even though they were struggling to afford a day’s meal.
They collected the amount in a pitcher and handed it over to Sumant Sahay, sub-divisional officer, Siliguri, through the NGO. Sahay described the gesture as unprecedented and worth emulating.
Pal, a member of the NGO, said the group expressed their desire to contribute their bit in the nation’s fight against coronavirus when they went to distribute food among them on Wednesday.
Earlier, 12 inmates of the Midnapore Central Correctional Home, who were convicted in various heinous crimes ranging from murder to robbery, collected ₹66,500 and donated to the CM’s relief fund. They had earned the money by doing various works in the jail.
Additional Director General of Police (Jail) Piyush Pandey personally felicitated the inmates with a flower bouquet and sweets for their generosity earlier this week. Chief Minister Banerjee too appreciated their contributions and said every single rupee donated by the common people of the state would help in overcoming the crisis.
Jail inmates make PPE
Besides financial held, inmates of various jails in the state are also contributing to the cause by making personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks for health workers. Five inmates of Berhampore Central Correctional Home are engaged in making PPE, while others are producing masks, jail superintendent Debasish Chakraborty said.
He said the chief medical officer of the district recently visited the jail to personally supervise the quality of the protective gears that the inmates had learnt to make by seeing some sample pictures shown to them on WhatsApp.
“The inmates got tailoring training in the jail itself. The best five in the business are now making the suits,” said Chakraborty.
Rabisankar Rabi, medical officer of the jail, said the suits were good enough for protection against contagions, and that he himself had worn one during health check-up of the inmates. “The target is to make 25 suits and supply it to other districts,” he added.
He, however, stated these gears would not be used by those medical staff directly dealing with Covid-19 positive patients. “It (the suit) will be ideal for the health workers doing door-to-door survey of people suffering from cold and cough,” Rabi said.