Covid-19 taught Indians the value of helping each other – and it could lay the groundwork for real change


On April 29, Surya Pratap Singh, a retired IAS officer, posted a video on Twitter from a tearful woman standing outside Tender Palm Hospital in Lucknow. The woman said her father’s oxygen levels dropped to single digits when the hospital faced a severe oxygen shortage. She challenged the government of Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Adityanath, to arrest her for openly discussing the lack of oxygen in state hospitals. It was a reference to Adityanath’s order for officials to take action under the National Security Act and seize the property of individuals who were trying to “spoil the atmosphere” as he claimed. that oxygen was not lacking at all, The Hindu reported.

As India’s medical and bureaucratic infrastructure collapsed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases during India’s second wave of the disease, Twitter, with just 17.5 million users in the country (barely 1% of the population), has become a critical element. safety rope. Thousands of users have taken to the website to collect medical resources such as hospital beds, remdesivir, plasma, and oxygen. At a time when the state abdicated responsibility, 519,000 individual accounts responded to emergency tweets between March 1 and April 21, linking users to medical resources despite threats to seize and arrest their property. .

By filling the void created by the absent and in some cases malicious state, these volunteers were conducting a self-help exercise – a “collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place do not go meet them ”, as the American lawyer Dean Spade defined the term in Mutual aid: building solidarity during this crisis (and the next one).

Two-pronged approach

As an organizational theory, self-help has a two-pronged approach: coordinating to provide immediate relief and advancing political awareness by exposing the systems that create these crises in the first place. By checking out leads, organizing fundraisers, and delivering food items while simultaneously exposing government complacency and defying government threats, relief work volunteers are empowering daring as a capacity, which they say in the words of Dean Spade, is essential to translate our efforts into long-term engagement.

When Bilkis Dadi and other Muslim women from Shaheen Bagh took control of a busy Delhi highway to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019, a decentralized network of bold volunteers emerged. They helped fuel the biggest unrest against the Bhartiya Janata party to date. These volunteers organized a shelter, installed langars or community kitsches, offered water and medical aid, built a library and transformed the protest site with their art for resistance.

Likewise, when thousands of farmers arrived at Delhi’s borders to protest the three agricultural laws, unions and volunteers gathered to donate langar, blankets, mobile charging stations, and medicine to meet the needs. immediate needs of protesters. Understanding the importance of political education, they also set up a temporary school and library for children and adult protesters at the Singhu border.

While both movements were interrupted by Covid-19, their principle of solidarity instead of charity politicized an entire generation of Indians and gave them the tools and the daring to resist the suppression of the state.

While mutual aid has a rich history, the black and indigenous communities of the United States have played a large role in its popularization in the recent past. Due to the occupation of Indigenous lands by the United States, many Indigenous communities such as the Navajo Nation experienced food shortages which led to a continent-wide movement for food sovereignty. By encouraging people to grow their own food, food sovereignty movements have reclaimed cultural practices, engaged tribal members in mutual aid, and bypassed industrial food systems imposed by the US government.

Likewise, to help black people and other oppressed groups meet their basic needs and acquire resources for self-determination and empowerment, the Black Panther Party – a Black Power political initiative founded in Oakland, California – organized over 60 survival programs in the 1960s and 1970s.

These included free services such as a children’s breakfast program, medical clinic, legal aid, ambulance services, clothing programs and housing co-ops. Responding to the unmet needs of a racist state, self-help efforts between Indigenous and Black people marry community service with political activism which, as American activist Mariame Kaba notes, focuses on challenging power. and oppressive systems.

At a time when many are desperate for the immediate Covid-19 crisis and the long-term crisis of government complacency to end, mutual aid is elucidating the way forward. It empowers those engaged in it, invites collaborations from other movements struggling for similar results, and presents alternative models of seeking justice and care that collectively help build long-term mobilization. Mutual aid makes it possible to push back the individualism promoted by capitalism and authoritarian governance which allows some to flourish to the detriment of others.

But while mutual aid can be an effective mobilization strategy, it is not a panacea. It alone cannot replicate the scale at which the state operates and has no intention of doing so. Mutual aid is inherently hierarchical – it is a commitment to consensus building and horizontal organization, traits that are antithetical to the state.

Therefore, despite its roots in anarchist theory, individuals can engage in self-help to demand the restoration of a welfare state as well. They may demand that the state build physical infrastructure, such as hospitals and oxygen factories, and social infrastructure, such as the Asha Workers’ Network, knowing that in our current political realities this is the only way to respond adequately to the scale of the Covid-19 Crisis.

Mutual aid galvanizes and creates the conditions for the possibility of change. Through direct action and unwavering solidarity, it helps create tools and capacities that can sustain struggles against a state that is at worst malicious and at best complacent. By raising funds, delivering groceries, calling hospitals and medical providers, preparing food and organizing langars, it demonstrates that individuals are not only trying to survive the pandemic, but are creating a plan for the future struggle to ensure a life of justice, compassion, and genuine bonding for all.

Apoorva Dhingra is a writer and researcher interested in urbanization, ecology and organizing for a better world. His email address is [email protected]

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