Almost 75 years have passed since the country became free. The era of zamindars and sahukars ended and the number of banks and their business increased a lot. However they had only one aim, to make maximum profit. After independence the drive to exploit the poor victims remained intact and in fact strengthened; the methods naturally changed.
In Bhiwandi city, which is close to Mumbai, MPJ (Movement for Peace and Justice), Aasra and other organisations put forth a new concept opposed to the behaviour of banks. They showed that if poor people are in control of banking and if their heart bleed on seeing the withered faces of labourers, then the direction of banks can be changed from that of profit-making towards social welfare and the welfare of the poor. A wonderful new thing called the “Roti Bank” was created with the singular aim of supplying rotis to those who had lost their jobs due to this pandemic, as well as to their families and those fleeing to their villages in droves on the national highway.
Bhiwandi city has a direct link with the battle for independence of 1857. When the British Raj resorted to genocide, when village after village was destroyed, many weavers took refuge in places like Malegaon and Bhiwandi and settled there. The Bhiwandi textile industry has a painful history. At first the Note Ban, later the GST and now the past two months of lockdown has destroyed it. Without any earning, the condition of the skilled craftsmen has gone from bad to worse. The loudly proclaimed government aid schemes have not reached them and the helpless workers in lakhs started filing along the roads to trudge across thousands of kilometres.
MPJ, Aasra and other organisations like these appealed to the residents of Bhiwandi to donate 5-10 rotis in these difficult times to hungry workers. Giving rotis to the hungry would be the biggest form of worship to God, supplying rotis to the hungry worker brothers and sisters returning to their houses in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and other provinces would be the biggest good deed towards society. More than 5000 rotis are being gathered every day. Not just rotis, but other items like pulav, khichadi and so on. Those who cannot reach the designated place due to the lockdown call the members who come and collect from the food from their homes. Hundreds of youth have joined this roti bank to ensure that this seva reaches everyone.
MPJ, Aasra and the other organisations have made several teams. Some teams do the work of collection, while others do the work of distribution on the Mumbai-Nashik highway. They do get tired working like this in the month of Ramzan, but their enthusiasm doesn’t slacken.
There is also anger in their minds that this Central Government has demonstrated its faithfulness to only a handful of big houses. Slick talk, declaration of attractive figures … but apart from this, in the past 50 days no aid from the government has reached Bhiwandi. Only people have helped other people. One shoulder has helped another helpless shoulder from drooping. However they have transformed their dried up tears into courage. They have tried to bring back a smile to their lips. The state has only conspired against them and rained lathis on them.
We hope that in this holy month of Ramzan, this Roti Bank will be a source of inspiration to other people.
A five-times a day Namazi,