Public Outrage in Shimla over Closure of Langar Service for Poor
Almighty Blessings NGO accused of stealing electricity and water
It is a plain case of humanity being put to shame on the altar of pettiness being witnessed at the Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla. An exemplary langar service that was running for the last seven years and feeding the poorest of the poor attendants of hospital patients stands disrupted.
The IGMC authorities have reportedly accused the NGO Almighty Blessings run by Sarabjeet Singh Bobby of “stealing” electricity and water from the hospital and illegally running the langar on its premises. The move has led to seething anger among people who have since been holding peaceful protests in Shimla.
To put matters straight the IGMC authorities or the government for that matter should have shown magnanimity in offering electricity, water and even leasing out a small part of the hospital premises for this commendable effort. People are asking why if the state can offer large chunks of land on lease to Babas for a token amount it can’t it do so here as well.
Bobby’s efforts have been commended by all sections of society including people like former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, and former governors Bandaru Dattatreya and Acharya Devvrat have personally attended the langar service in the past. One just has to type his name on social media to see the kind of appreciation he has received.
The worst part of the action taken by IGMC authorities is that it comes at a time when Bobby himself is in hospital following a kidney transplant. This has added to people’s anger who say it is like stabbing someone in the back.
What needs to be understood is the uniqueness of the effort that Bobby initiated. It began with a small langar of tea and biscuits for the attendants of poor cancer patients. This received a tremendous response from people who came forward to donate generously, and gradually this langar of hygienic food was extended to three meals for the attendants of all patients at IGMC.
“While poor people get their meals from the hospital, their attendants often went hungry or were compelled to eat the leftover food of their patient. This had led us to start the initiative,” Bobby told this reporter a couple of years ago.
The most outstanding aspect of the initiative is its Roti Bank, and involving the children of the town in the effort while instilling a feeling of service and sharing in them.
“I began with talks in various schools of the city, both government and private, where I introduced the concept of selfless service to the children and requested them to bring just one extra roti once a week that could be served to the attendants of the poor patients.
“The children and their parents responded very positively to the call and today we collect more than 25,000 rotis a week from 40 schools. We send our vehicles to various schools daily to collect these rotis which are then kept in machines that keep them soft and warm through the day,” Bobby had explained.
This reporter was witness to the service being given to the poor. The hot meals would be prepared and the attendants would come to the langar hall where they would be served after a prayer. The most beautiful aspect was local women and children turning up at the venue on time to serve the food. At times children would turn up straight from school.
There were many occasions when I witnessed children celebrating their birthdays at the venue, coming with their parents and serving custard or kheer.
One had only to visit the place to experience what humanity is all about. One would never have the courage to look at the poor attendants in their eyes that were full of gratitude.
Bobby’s philosophy has been ‘gharib ka muh bhagwan ka golak’ - the mouths of the poor are the donation box of the god.
The langar continued through the Covid waves and the Almighty Blessings went a step further to even deliver food to the doorsteps of Covid patients.
“We fail to understand what is going on. Bobby has been the recipient of an award from President Ram Nath Kovind. During the first Covid19 wave, when there was a lot of fear and confusion, the langar was a solace for so many people. Packed food and water was being provided to the police personnel and other frontline workers from here.
“We just hope that the service gets revived,” said Santosh Thakur, who has been associated with the service full time ever since she opted for voluntary retirement from the BSNL a couple of years ago.
The NGO is involved in a host of other activities as well. Primary among them has been a free pickup and drop facility for cancer patients in Shimla. Apart from that it has been running a hearse van to carry the bodies of the poor back to their villages. The NGO also offers free cremation services to the poor, and all this has been going on with their involvement.
This is why the issue raised reportedly by the IGMC authorities - that people have the right to know where the funding is coming from and there should be a magisterial inquiry into its working - flies in their face.
Following the public uproar, there are media reports saying that Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has asked for a report into the matter.
Meanwhile protests are taking place on a daily basis in Shimla and people are expressing their anger on social media.
They are asking that if the langar was being run illegally and electricity and water were being stolen from the hospital, what the authorities were doing over the last seven years. Why did they not have the courage to point it out all this while, when the who’s who of the politics and state administration came to attend the service?