With the help of her family, Chhayarani Sahu, a 57-year-old farmer living in Odisha’s Bhadrak district, has been distributing free vegetables to the residents of at least 15 nearby villages since the COVID-19-induced lockdown was put into place.
Besides their native village of Kuruda, which falls under Basudevpur block in Bhadrak district, Chhayarani and her family have so far distributed over 50 quintals of fresh vegetables to other villages including Bhairabpur, Alabaga, Lunga, Brahmanigaon, Binayakpur and even some wards of the Basudevpur municipality.
On April 23, when a complete shutdown was announced in the Bhadrak district for 60 hours, Chhayarani and her family had over 25 quintals of vegetables left with them and couldn’t travel to their usual far out locations. But that didn’t stop them. They went ahead and distributed the packets to the nearby villages only.
“I had been doing this before the lockdown as well. Whenever people are in need, I help out by distributing vegetables and milk to them. People would come home to collect vegetables. Besides, I would also give 1-2 kg of ghee for various yajnas (rituals) and distribute milk among senior citizens who don’t rear cattle,” she says, to The Better India.
The mother of four has been growing vegetables on her seven-acre farm for the past 20 years. Besides that, she rears 20 cows and earns a living through dairy farming as well. Her husband, Sarbeswar Sahu, assists her in both endeavours and runs a milk society.
Although the family earns over Rs 3 lakh every year from vegetable farming, the lockdown ensured that they couldn’t sell more than Rs 50,000 worth. Instead of letting local traders take advantage of the situation by buying their produce at lower prices, they decided to distribute the vegetables for free.
How does she do it?
“Working alongside a group of volunteers, I hire a tempo to go around the villages every day. We pack the vegetables for easy distribution (2.5 kg to 3 kg per packet). Once we reach the location, my husband, sons—Manas and Santosh—and their wives, help me set up a tent where people come to collect the vegetable packets. A group of volunteers accompanies us. Sometimes, we even travel on foot to deliver the vegetables,” she informs.
If it’s a large village, she travels there alongside her family and team of volunteers. But if it’s a small village, they send the tempo carrying vegetables and station it there for a couple of days. The packets they distribute contain an assortment of vegetables including tomatoes, pumpkins, brinjals, ladyfingers, carrots, beets, green chillies and even spinach.
Besides, she also distributed around 30 litres of milk from approximately 12 cows that her family rears to villagers and police personnel on lockdown duty.
While acts of generosity and compassion during a public health crisis-induced lockdown are indeed invaluable, doesn’t she feel the financial pinch of the lockdown as well?
“It is affecting my family and me. We are unable to sell our vegetables, but at this hour I need to think about others and help them out. I have to think about how to reach poor people and help them in my own little ways,” she says with an element of stoicism and kindness in her voice.
Despite their own financial difficulties at this time, her husband, two sons and their wives have happily contributed to her cause. She does admit that there are considerable risks in her endeavour to feed those in need.
But with taking all necessary precautions like wearing a mask, following social distancing norms and avoiding large gatherings of people, the risks don’t amount to much.
“I wear a mask and take precautions. I am looking at this as an opportunity to help others and not think much about myself. People are dying from starvation, so I am happy that in some way, I am preventing that from happening,” she concludes.
(With inputs from Raj Sampad)
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)