SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 6 MAY, 2020
Muslim Women In the Lead to Fight Covid-2019 - From Masks to Cremations
What do people like Jahanara Bibi, Zakir Hussain, Heera, Rebecca, Mansura, Reshma, Hassanujjaman, Akbar, Raju and Rahim have in common?
One, they all are residents of West Bengal; two, they are Muslim and three, immune to the communal strife reported all around, they have dedicated themselves to help the poor, the ignorant and the needy in these times of Covid-19 irrespective of their communal identity.
Some of them are making masks and distributing these free of cost among poor people who cannot afford to buy them, creating awareness in their respective neighbourhoods about the need for wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and staying indoors during the lockdown. They live in neighbourhoods in extended Kolkata where the majority is Muslim but Hindus live here too and there does not seem any communal strife raising its head here.
According to Arunakshya Bhattacharya of the Anandbazar Patrika (May 4, 2020), Jahanara Bibi, a housewife, who lives in the neighbourhood of Duttapukur Police Station, happened to chance upon a group of children moving about without masks during the lockdown. So, she asked them why they were not wearing masks. They chorused that they did not have the means to buy masks. She at once made up her mind to make masks herself at home with leftover pieces of cloth and distribute these for free among poor children. She personally distributed these masks to different localities in the neighbourhood. To end this happy story, her husband, Zakir Hussain, has joined her in this effort.
Explaining what motivated her, Jahanara says, “I know that people in these outskirts and suburbs areas are not aware of the importance of wearing masks and the ill effects of not wearing them. There are many who cannot afford to buy masks or know to make them, So, I took it upon myself not to make masks but also to visit homes from door to door and distribute the masks and also, if possible, to explain the importance of wearing masks when stepping out.”
Happily, other women of the community such as Heera, Rebecca and Mansura are distributing masks across neighbourhoods like Jagulia, Duttapukur, Golabadi, etc from one house to the next and also selling some masks to those who can pay.
Aamdanga is a neighbourhood crowded with people of the minority community. The same applies to Hadipur and Gorpara in Deganga. A group of women from the minority community noticed that the residents of these places were crowding needlessly in some areas, in violation of the rules of social distancing. Some were even seen chit-chatting at small tea shops.
A group of Muslim women took it upon themselves to form small groups and visit these crowded areas and counsel the locals against crowding needlessly and advising them to stay home. Reshma Tarafdar, a college student, went from door to door to advise them to stay at home and not step out during the lockdown. Some among these groups are also helping out in the distribution of free food among the poor and the very poor.
Hassanujjaman Choudhury, a young man who lives in Noornagar within Deganga, has invented an original “Food ATM” machine which carries the label “Please maintain social distancing” on its body. The very poor who cannot afford their daily meals are handed a metal token with the picture of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. They have to slip this token into a slot in the machine and at once, two packets of rice, potatoes, onions, soyabean and oil come out. Others involved in similar volunteer work are Akbar, Raju and Rahim who have vowed to stand beside the deprived and the downtrodden in these dark days.
These incidents come in the wake of the story of Abdul Rehman Sheikh, 30, a businessman, who, along with other Muslim neighbours, came to the aid of the sons of Draupadi Bai Verma when her sister refused to take care of her as she suspected the old woman of being a Covid-19 patient. No one was there to take her to a hospital and she died the following day. This happened in the beginning of April this year.
She lived with one son who is very poor while the other was away and could not come down when the mother was serious. They were very poor. The neighbours refused to even touch the body leave alone joining to help in the funeral rites. At this juncture, Sheikh brought ten Muslim men and came forward to arrange the cremation of the lady by Hindu rites both physically and financially.
This happened in South Toda in Indore. The old woman was suffering from paralysis for three months. According to Sheikh, her sister’s sons, who live just 100 metres away refused to step inside the house. “If she was taken to a hospital the same day, she probably wouldn’t have died,” said Sheikh. the 10 men, along with her two sons and their children, took out the procession to the cremation ground around a kilometre away.
Man-made schisms within two communities do not exist except when politicians try to ignite them for their own axe-grinding motives irrespective of the degree and intensity of the harm this igniting of hate can fall on the harmony and secular feelings the present situation demands. These are just a few examples that illustrate how Kolkata and its suburbs are being witness to the wonderful effort being put in by women of the minority community in volunteering to help people in distress, specially the economically deprived classes, with their help, without thinking about how their exposure in the public domain might place them at risk.
According to a Reuters Report in The Japan Times,(April 20, 2020), “There is no official breakdown of coronavirus cases by religion. But many Muslims feel unfairly blamed for spreading the disease after a cluster emerged at a gathering of Muslim missionaries in New Delhi last month. Sensational news coverage about the event, fanned by some Hindu nationalist politicians, helped spur the trending topic “Coronajihad” on social media.