When Aarti Madhusudan’s phone rang on 1 April, she saw an anonymous number flash across the screen. Thankfully, with a long habit of answering all calls, she received that one too. If she hadn’t, a family may have starved for the third day in a row.
“The person on the other side spoke in a desperate voice. He told me that he got my number as a government helpline number and that he is a labourer from Jharkhand. He hadn’t eaten in two days and didn’t know what to do. Though surprised at the call, the tremor in his voice made me take a call for action,” Aarti tells The Better India (TBI).
Though the man was calling from Hosur, Aarti managed to procure food for him and his family.
In fact, in the next couple of days, she got about 10-15 more of such distress calls, each asking for help amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, she has helped 217+ labourers in and around Chennai by getting daily essentials to them through the power of social media.
Wrong Number Became Right – Hundreds Helped Across Chennai
Aarti, a resident of Chennai hadn’t given out her number as a helpline anywhere. She was certainly taken aback at the first call which came out of nowhere. But that wasn’t the end of it.
The first call that Aarti received was from Hosur, a city some 300 km from Chennai. The desperation and earnest appeal in the voice of this stranger made Aarti leap into action. Now, it was impossible for her to step out on her own and drive all the way to another city. But, her social presence is strong and almost immediately, Aarti posted on her Facebook wall asking for help. Within hours, the post was shared and several people commented, offering help.
The next call was about a group of 198 construction labourers working in Sri city, on the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The contractors had fled during the lockdown period leaving the labourers helpless. Having exhausted all their money, this large group had no means to sustain itself. Once they got a helpline number to ask for help, it turned out to be Aarti’s.
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Sensing their urgency, Aarti posted this information on her social media too. One of her relatives shared the story and Nagesh Akula, a cyber specialist from Hyderabad picked it up.
“The labourer, Ashok Kumar Ram is from Jharkhand. He told me that his community, 198 people strong, were without food or other essential supplies. Since the city lies on district and state borders, getting people to reach them was tricky. Finally, I reached out to the District Collector of Chittoor District who promised to help them out,” Nagesh tells TBI.
It took Nagesh several hours to reach the right people for help. Fortunately, by the next morning, the work was done. “Ashok Kumar confirmed that they have enough ration for the next three days and that the collector’s team has promised a regular supply,” he shares.
The COVID-19 Crisis is a Time to Help Those in Need:
Since 1 April, Aarti has received about 10-15 calls of distress. For places she cannot find any government helpline numbers of, she posts on her social media and almost every time, help is offered.
A group of 17 labourers stranded in Mangaluru, another group from Chennai and several individuals have received essentials, food and ration thanks to one woman who was proactive enough to call for help and many others who came forward to help total strangers.
“I tell every person who calls me to expect a call of relief within a few hours. If they don’t, I ask them to call me back so I can double down on the efforts. On 2 April, I got a call back from one of the labourers. My heart sank thinking he hasn’t received the help I had promised him. When I answered, he confirmed that someone did come to give him food. I told him more people might come and that it’s wise to keep stock. No, he said. I have enough for two days. I asked him what if there is someone else starving and in need of food? And he replied with – I’ll direct the next help to that person,” shares Aarti.
Aarti says she hasn’t received any call today. Perhaps the helpline number was corrected. In any case, we are glad that Aarti used the power of social media to help as many people as she could.
Thousands of daily wage labourers, migrant workers and other marginalised communities may be stranded and starving. If you know any such family or community, call your nearest helpline immediately and get them help. Click here for a list of helplines across India.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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