A socially conscious neighbourhood rises to the occasion
It is 9 p.m. Monday night. The demolition site at Ejipura looks like a burial ground. The bonfires scattered across the landscape eerily look like funeral pyres. “It’s to keep off the cold, mosquitoes and thieves,” says Razzack (29).
Covered in blankets, entire families huddle and stare into the blaze, their expressions seem like they are waiting for something, someone. There is some commotion nearby. A brightly coloured lorry rolls in, horn blaring. The exhausted residents crowd around the Akshaya Patra vehicle as volunteers distribute packed food.
A few hundred metres away, a desperate-looking man tugs at this reporter. “I am not a beggar, sir. But can you give me something to feed my family?” he says.
At around 10 p.m. a group of young boys arrives on the scene, asking people to head for the local masjid. “Have you collected your token?” one of the boys asks Babu (29). “But I’m not Muslim,” he replies. “Did I ask you for your religion?” the boy retorts, a tad irritated.
At the masjid, there are hundreds standing in a queue, each with a scrap of paper, which is a token with a seal and a signature on it. “Come forward, one by one,” says a young man. As they hold out a token, one of the young volunteers scribbles a serial number on it and writes down their mobile number in a diary. “Come back when you find a house on rent. We will give you Rs. 10,000,” he says.
A voice on the public address system of the masjid is looping the same announcement: ‘Come back to us with your tokens when you have found a house and we will give you Rs. 10,000.”
An exasperated volunteer says: “Many of them are not even able to understand why we are giving out these tokens.”
Is this an initiative of the masjid? “No,” says a volunteer with a goatee and a skull cap. An NGO maybe? “No.” The local politician, then? The volunteers look at each other and laugh. “Do we need a tag to help people?” asks the leader of the group, who identifies himself as Venkatraman Iyer.
Evidently, not a member of the masjid, eh? “Maybe…maybe not. Does it matter?” he asks with a wink.
Just then, the local MLA N.A Haris makes an entry. Asked where he was as this human drama was playing out, he retorts angrily: “Who do you think is organising this initiative?”
The volunteers stand around smiling knowingly. “Who cares who gets the credit? As long as the people here get some help,” says one of the volunteers.
It turns out later that Mr. Haris has nothing to do with the initiative. It was put together by a group of socially conscious Hindus, Muslims and Christians from Koramangala and neighbouring areas.
“He [Harris] tried to chase us away. He threatened us with dire consequences and said that this was his area,” alleged one of the volunteers.