Inhabited majorly by Muslims, our neighbourhood known as “Mohammadan Block” becomes a preferred hangout spot for groups of mendicants every Ramzan, probably hailing from the city outskirts. Old and middle aged, they thronged the locality hopeful of benefitting from “Zakat” – the Ramzan Charity – in shape of money or rations kits or a serving of Biryani. They know quite well people would rather dole out something than bearing the guilt and wrath of turning away a destitute during the holy month. However, Corona Virus this year and the previous year as well, has thwarted their plans and prospects of wandering around to gain from the magnanimity of people.
I see a few, who somehow managed evading the lockdown, roaming around in the area; their calls and cries for donations, tinted with religious pronouncements, echo in the deserted street. Their voice tugs at my heartstrings but I divert myself, shun the guilty thoughts gnawing my conscience for not helping a couple of presumably downtrodden destitute. This is too big a risk to open the door to a scrounger to hand over alms. The fear of contracting the virus, the adherence to precautions gets the better of me and I turn a deaf ear to their appeals, thrusting aside even the idea of keeping something at the doorstep. Not in entirety, but the situation somewhat reminds me of the protagonist, Bakha, from Mulk Raj Anand’s “Untouchable” who was turned away “social distanced” by the upper caste people as he belonged to the outcast’s community of sweepers; so much so a lady dreading any degree of nearness flung food at him-achieving both the objectives of feeding a poor and maintaining a safe distance from an untouchable. The pandemic has brought about certain hesitation in terms of coming in contact with people, though not on basis of superiority or arrogance- it has made us wary of people’s touch and proximity; we dread to touch or to be touched, lest we carry the virus.
A couple of years ago, this area was abuzz with heartening philanthropic activities that highlighted the true spirit of Ramzan. Maids and other groups of needy people had a gala time collecting sarees and ration bags from different households and their ear to ear grin was testimonial to the fact that they had got their share of bounties to celebrate the festive month. Ramzan is like the harvest season when they could reap the returns of serving in a household and walk away with more than their remuneration; gifts and bonus- demonstratively feeling happy seeing the house owners loosen the purse strings.
But this year has cast a gloomy shadow all over- even the maids are sent on an indefinite leave-some paid some unpaid.
Pandemic has impacted people severely and many are wedged in financial imbroglio – it has either snatched or tapered down the livelihood of people who perhaps are no longer positioned to allocate funds for charity big heartedly as it was the case earlier. Besides, with coronavirus cases going berserk, the cause of charity has taken up multifarious forms to deal with the rising exigencies on healthcare front, particularly. The appeals for medical supplies ranging from donations for oxygen cylinders to medicines (which sadly are being sold at exorbitant prices), the clamouring need to provide relief to daily wage earners rendered jobless… the loud calls for help from so many directions has thus suppressed pleas of a street beggar asking for alms “Allah key naam pey”.
The current situation is grim, compared to how things were during the first wave last year. Who could have thought deaths and devastation caused by the virus will reach a stage where crematorium will run out of wood and graveyards of sand to furnish a decent burial to the dead?
It is not so that people are holding on to their coffers and balking at the thought of spending money in charity. If earlier distribution of ration kits, clothes or Friday feasts formed the core of traditional charity, this year it has been diverted, taken a new route which possibly will not end up with jingling coins or rustling bills in the begging bowl of roadside panhandlers.
With restriction on movement, the hand-to-hand charity has been replaced by digital transactions and this of course spells doom for the unfortunate needy people who wander around seeking alms, maybe oblivious to many gasping, praying for oxygen and a bed in an ICU ward- both need help.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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