One redeeming feature of the nationwide fight against Covid-19 is the increasing involvement of the citizenry. As there is a mismatch between the claims of the government — both Central and state — and the reality on the ground, more and more civil society organisations have been coming forward to bridge the gap. What’s more, this has been happening all across the country and every section of society has been taking part in it. On Monday last, a 400-bed Covid medical isolation and treatment centre started functioning at the Rakabganj Gurdwara in New Delhi. Actor Amitabh Bachchan made a substantial contribution of Rs 2 crore to make the centre a reality. On the same day, Mount Carmel School at Dwarka in the capital was converted into a Covid care centre with 100 oxygen beds, as a mark of respect to the school founder, who died of Covid-19.
Earlier, the Sikh community in Delhi showed that they were not only good at feeding thousands of people at their gurdwaras but also successfully introducing a new kind of langar — oxygen langar. Everybody who needed oxygen was provided with it and there are many who live today because of the oxygen supply they received when they needed it most. As part of their philanthropy, the Sikhs also provided much-needed medicines at throw-away prices to the needy.
There were reports of mosques in Delhi turning into Covid care centres. The Ramakrishna Mission set a shining example when it threw open its headquarters at Belur Math, West Bengal, to Covid-19 patients, who needed residential medical care. Hospitals run by the Christian community gladly and willingly bore the heavy burden the Covid surge inflicted on them.
Even at the individual level, people cutting across religious, political and caste divides were coming forward to help one another in times of need. Resident welfare societies thought it necessary to make arrangements to ensure that their members who contracted the disease were provided help in procuring medicines, food, oxygen concentrators and cylinders. Nobody saw the disease as affecting only some, not all.
In fact, during the second surge this time, there is a growing feeling that nobody is safe from Covid-19 and no matter how healthy a person is, there is no immunity from it. That is, perhaps, why more and more people have been coming forward, cooking food for their neighbours, helping those in distress with money and other support and, in short, taking care of one another. Small wonder that The Economist of London wrote about a man in Delhi who went around distributing food packets among those whom he thought were starving. All these are signs of good citizenry, which will redound to the credit of the nation.
True, there have also been reports of private hospitals fleecing patients in the name of PPE kits, oxygen supplied and other services not rendered. One hospital charged over Rs 1,200 for a bowl of rice porridge. However abominable such cases of cheating and profiteering may be, they are few and far between, when one takes into account the tens of thousands of good Samaritan cases reported from all over the country.
There are innumerable cases of specialist doctors providing consultation over telephone and through WhatsApp and other social media, many a time, free of cost to those who need it. In cities, many large WhatsApp groups have been providing services to their members and through them to the general public with information about where hospital admission is possible or an oxygen cylinder could be obtained at short notice.
What’s noteworthy is that people are no longer dependent on the government in their fight against Covid-19. They know that it is pointless to expect the government or its agencies to meet their needs when somebody in their own neighbourhood can do it better and quickly too. Of course, they know that the common people have no control over the distribution of vaccines or the vaccination drive. They also know that they will have to wait till the Central and state governments sort out the problems of pricing and distribution but in the meanwhile, there is no reason why they should delay what they can do to fight the menace.
There is also the realisation that when it comes to the brass tacks, it is the good neighbour who can help a person, not the government which is busy filing affidavits in the apex court that it has not failed or the close relative who lives thousands of miles away. In other words, good neighbourliness is the essence of good citizenry.