Adv Soniya Gajbhiye
(SAVARI and Round Table India are doing a series to put together the Bahujan perspective on the Coronavirus pandemic)
Rahul Gaikwad: Jai Bhim, Soniya! I have been following your relief work during this pandemic lockdown for almost past 2 months through your fb updates. Can you please tell us what kind of work have you been doing and why?
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: Jai Bhim, Rahul! When the lockdown was announced some of the people from my area where I live came to me for help, most of them were daily wagers. I have been running an organization called Bhimraj Ki Beti Buddhist Mahila Sangh through which I have been carrying on social activities as my father too has been for long involved in social activities. After discussing with them I realized that the worst affected are going to be bahujans staying in slums, daily wagers and those daily wagers from other states who are stranded in Nagpur.
So immediately after the lockdown was announced on 22nd March 2020, within a week’s time i.e. from April 1st 2020, I decided to do something about it. So far we have provided foodgrain packets (5kg rice, 1kg daal and other essentials, including sanitizers) to around 4000 households. I also realized the daily wagers stuck here without permanent place/house or the homeless ones need to be served meals directly, since foodgrains won’t be of any use to them. So we began from 200 people, and now we have served 300-500 people daily by directly providing them with prepared meals for one time in the last 57 days.
Rahul Gaikwad: That is wonderful. But how did you manage finances for this?
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: I realized I wanted to do this work and the best way to go about it is to begin from self. So I decided to use some of my savings from my own earnings. I work as an advocate with Nagpur bench of Bomaby High Court. After all my organization’s name Bhimraj Ki Beti is clearly suggestive of being Babasaheb’s daughter and I consider this work of mine as just one way of paying back to society which Babasaheb had advised.
Rahul Gaikwad: So how did you decide about which households to distribute the foodgrains to? And if I may ask how much money have you spent so far from your own pockets and if you got any help from outside too? Also how long do you plan to continue doing this?
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: We did a survey first, trying to see who needs immediate help and we also took information about people from from NMC, Collector’s Office. To talk about expenses, we have been spending 15-20 k daily for packets and meal distribution. So far we have spent around 6 lacs rupees of which my own contribution is 5 lacs and people have donated around 90000 rupees to me. I am hopeful of continuing this work as long as the lockdown lasts.
Rahul Gaikwad: That’s amazing. Would you like to share your contact details in case someone wishes to contribute towards your cause?
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: Yes, that would be very nice. Those who wish to may send their monetary help at these details:
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye (Mobile Number – 9096111003)
Bank of India
Ac No : 875810110002676
Branch: Medical college/IFSC Code: BKID0008708
Rahul Gaikwad: What is your opinion about this lockdown? How do you see this lockdown from bahujan perspective?
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: This lockdown is affecting bahujans badly. The Brahmin savarna class is not affected much here. The bahujans are mostly suffering due to hunger, lack of material resources. No individual or NGO can feed the whole lot, it is the state’s duty to feed its citizens but what we are seeing is people are made to walk thousands of kilometes without food whereas the state intervened to rescue those from other countries with flights. Why this discrimination towards the bahujan class?
Moreover this is also a failure on the state’s part to check incoming international travellers. If they had been screened and quarantined the spread of this epidemic could have been avoided. I see the failure of healthcare too and state apathy largely. I think people should not stay just calm they should register their protest through petitions to collectorate offices, courts or police stations and hold the state accountable.
Rahul Gaikwad: Thank you for your time and views. I wish you and your team all the best for your work ahead.
Adv Soniya Gajbhiye: Thank you, and I want to thank all known or unknown people who have contributed monetarily or in kind, also I especially want to thank some of the people like Sushil Gedam, Sumit Gajbhiye, Yogesh Raut and Nikhil Boriye without whose support this work would be difficult to do. I want to thank journalist Devesh Gondane too.
Soniya Gajbhiye is an advocate at Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench. She is also a social activist running an organization named Bhimraj Ki Beti Buddhist Mahila Sangh in Nagpur.
Rahul Gaikwad is an independent researcher based in Mumbai.