The Battle of the Modern Day Mahatma
by Surbhi Mahatma, Torpa, Jharkhand

Mahatma Gandhi fought against the British Raj, with undeterred spirit to win back freedom. His fight was a long haul. Gandhi’s decades of courageous, dedicated and selfless efforts, directed towards the cause of mass liberalisation was one of the major pillars of India’s success to freedom. But that was 73 years ago. India, and the world, is faced with another menace which is bringing in millions and millions of individuals in its deadly embrace. And the name of the menace is well known even to toddlers now. Coronavirus.

Surbhi Mahatma joined PRADAN in 2017 and was placed with our team in Torpa block of Jharkhand. After completing her D.A.-ship, Surbhi dedicated herself to the task of grassroots empowerment. Starting from nurturing SHGs, to strengthening bonds with the administration; from planning the Kharif crop cycle to assisting farmers in marketing the crops; from lending a caring shoulder to the woman who fell prey to domestic violence to dancing to the zesty beats during the annual Mahadhiveshan – Surbhi slowly became a part and parcel of the daily lives of thousands of households in remote hamlets of Torpa. Back home, in a busy Delhi locality, her parents and elder brother, Sunil remained busy in their daily chores. It was last January that Sunil decided to take a few months off and pay a visit to their uncle who stays in Dubai.

A couple of months passed. News from Wuhan started grabbing people’s attention – there’s a new disease called COVID-19. Soon it did not remain a China problem anymore. The COVID-19 crisis started hitting news headlines all across the world.

By the third week of March India also braced for the crisis and as per the order of the central government the country went into a 21-day lockdown. Although we had started working from home much before the lockdown was announced, most of our staff continued extending support to the local administration and the villages with permission from the authorities concerned. Surbhi was no exception.

On the 23rd of March, a call came to Surbhi. Her father, anxious about her health, usually called her daily. That day also her father was on the other side, but his voice was trembling. Sunil was detected with COVID-19 in Dubai. He was having fever occasionally, but none could think that this was COVID-19. He had to be shifted to a private hospital a day before. The news itself was unnerving. Also, the very thought, that she was not being able to stay with her parents at this hour of absolute distress, added to her stress. But she couldn’t let the situation get out of control. Surbhi calmed herself. “The show must go on” – she stood resolute. Putting on her mask and gloves, Surbhi left for the villages to help the administration deliver emergency items at the doorsteps of the community members.

Each day would pass like an entire year. Sunil’s health update would come from Dubai intermittently – “Doctors are keeping a close watch, let’s hope for the best”.

A sister’s anxiety would never be assuaged with this little information. Grave news from all across the world made her even more perturbed. “Wish I could be there with him, now, and put my hands on his forehead! It could comfort him like nothing else”, a restless Surbhi would think every now and then. But that was not happening. Surbhi channelized all her emotions towards the villagers. “I have thousands of families to save from this crisis. I can be of help to them at least”, Surbhi’s strength grew with these thoughts. Support from her fellow team mates made her feel more confident. Not a single day passed when Surbhi did not go to the villages or speak with the people there or the administrative officials. All these days, at every moment, Surbhi would silently pray for Sunil. It was only on the 8th of April that Sunil’s reports showed considerable progress and he was declared out of danger, completely. The doctors discharged him from the hospital. Surbhi’s joy knew no bounds.

Today, as Surbhi looks back to that dark phase, she has memories of her sheer determination and faith in her good deeds. She felt broken from within, but never lost the zeal and courage to stand by thousands of villagers in Torpa. She was finding meaning and solace in reaching out to the last person in the queue in her own times of distress too.

The ‘Mahatma’ in her name, truly resonates with the qualities of the pan-Indian leader who fought with similar zest during the freedom struggle that saw India emerge as a nation from the clutches of British imperialism. With Surbhi, and thousands other like Surbhi, we are sure that India will come out triumphant yet again and win over the global pandemic. #JeetengeHum