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  • The Edict

Project Safar: In Conversation With Saptarshi Basak

Tathagat Chaubey, UG 20

This is the second of a two-part series that profiles humanitarian initiatives taken up by Ashokans in the pandemic that seek your support.

Saptarshi and his team founded Project Safar, a successful project that raised over four lacs to help migrants reach home in the pandemic. They booked flights and bus tickets for almost fifty people and received monetary support from over 250 people. They are trying to do the same thing again and need as much help as they can get.

How did you think of taking up this project? What were you inspired by?

The catalyst for this project was the newspaper article on the NLS airlift from Bombay to Ranchi. I was like if NLS can and Ashoka can’t then it’s a fucking shame because our populace is wealthier and better connected with the kind of people you need to pull off such an operation.

So while NLS gave me the idea, the inspiration was none. I was angry at the government for not getting anything right. People are dying in the very trains they are going back home in so that they can be saved from dying in the city? That really pushed me over the limit. I had been using this anger, channelling it to do relief work in other ways, like cash transfers or ration supplies. When flights resumed, and NLS did what they did, the idea struck me!

I was also angry at the upper class and their dismissal of the plight of the poor… we had the police giving birthday cakes to the rich and slaps and sticks to the poor. So all of it really accumulated inside my mind to push me to take up this initiative.

This project wasn’t small by any means. Was there a plan you had in mind?

So honestly, my plan was actually to give it a shot, fail at it and go back to ration supply and cash transfers. But thanks to my team, it actually happened! Best case scenario in my head was that we’d try and fail, but someone would notice our efforts and try placing these 44 people on a bus or a train.

But yeah, it worked out fine and now that it did, we have expanded our plan, we even have a name now! Right now, we are sending around 70 plus people home in the next two weeks!

Did everything go to plan? Were there any hiccups?

Yes, I have to say we got really really lucky. The entire operation can be jeopardized if one of these three areas mess up:

  1. Airlines

  2. Fundraising

  3. Government

We overcame all possible challenges only due to one reason: the team. The team had people who were equipped to tackle each of the three issues. Pranjal and Aryaman got us the best deals for flights and reduced our fundraiser target by around 60,000 rupees!

The other issue was ensuring that everything works out smoothly at the airport because these people have never flown before and they don’t know how to fill forms and such. So Aninthitha, who stayed at the airport from 3 am to 5 am with her mum, ensured that workers were treated with respect and given the guidance required for smooth passage onto the plane.

Fundraising: I have to say we got lucky with this one. I guess it was the excitement about coming together as one community and getting to say, “Hey my university sent migrants home” that brought a lot of people forward to donate (I can assure they won’t donate a second time, and the overall response from the Ashokan community will be much lesser, it is how it is). So while fundraising, we had the advantage of presenting something new and hopeful to Ashoka.

Knowing that this won’t work again, we have started asking companies for financial support to fund tickets for migrants. On 16th July, 13 people on our list are flying, all funded by an Ashokan’s parents’ company funds. We have already sealed the deal with two more companies and are in talks with a few more.

Government: Oh man, the one institution that is supposed to help us… There were multiple areas of good: Mumbai police permits for workers to reach Mumbai airport, the bus from Ranchi airport that would take them to their respective districts, red zone issues etc. But again, we got lucky.

One of my batchmates – Priyanka Mehta – whose dad is close to the DCP of Kandivali, ensured us that there would be no hindrance from the cops when workers are en route to the airport. I used to run a lockdown relief helpline with my friends in Ranchi that had me very closely connected with the Labour Commission of Jharkhand. So they arranged a bus free of cost for workers to go from Ranchi airport to their respective district.

While there was always the potential for hiccups, thanks to our team, our contacts and a bit of luck, we made it.

How can the student body keep helping?

I guess the best you can do is provide funds to those working every day, all day to help the poor in any possible way. It could be food, medicines, transportation or protection from domestic abuse. The medium of relief matters less, what matters more is that the agents of relief are supported by those who are empathetic but lack the will or the capability to do something about the problem and monetary contributions imply one form of engagement. So yeah, you can help us by not staying aloof, by not blocking yourself from the miseries we see every day.

In my previous work, the lockdown helpline, we were distributing food packets which a family could use for 4-6 days and it cost merely 480 rupees. One of my friends asked me how she can help but she didn’t have much money and she didn’t have a pass either. So I just asked her to find ONE person who can pay for ONE family. She ended up finding people who’d go on to give enough money for 8-10 families. She personally did nothing to contribute [monetarily], but her engagement allowed her to find people who did contribute significantly.

So merely the act of staying engaged with reality automatically helps those who are active in this sphere.

As we go forward during this tough time, we need to understand how even a little bit can go a long way in helping someone gravely in need. These are the very people who build our roads, homes, and cities, and it is time we give them our due respect and humanity. Please donate as generously as you can on this link or Google Pay: Prerna Vij – +91 94178 02698.

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