Meet The Man Behind The Efforts
Mr.Zaffar Khan, a 57 year old leather businessman from Dharavi, Mumbai has been serving his community since he was a young man. It comes as no surprise that he considered it his responsibility to help people who were struggling to make ends meet during the Coronavirus lockdown. We got in touch with him to understand what sparked his interest in social work and how he overcame financial difficulties along with an extremely strict curfew to provide aid to hundreds of families in Asia’s largest slum.
The Motivation To Help People Dates Decades Back
“I distinctly remember the riots that occured in Bhiwandi in 1984, when 30-40 terrified people fled Bhiwandi in search of shelter and landed in Mahim.”
“I distinctly remember the riots that occurred in Bhiwandi in 1984, when 30-40 terrified people fled Bhiwandi in search of shelter and landed in Mahim. My friends and I, although quite young at that time, arranged for their stay in a municipality school since summer vacations were going on. We gathered all the money we had to arrange for a stove and started cooking for them in a lane in our area. Soon people began contributing money to ensure the families never spent a day empty stomach. We managed to take care of them for 40 days, providing them with food and basic necessities.” He narrated, the memories seemed vivid.
How It All Started
Having had a business for decades in the area, the desire to help people in need in the red zone of Dharavi came naturally to Zaffar.
“However there was little I could do given my age and the financial stress I am under.”
He got an opportunity to turn his longing to help into action in the beginning of April, when Zaffar’s sister-in-law, who wanted to support a few families stuck in Dharavi, contacted him. He immediately got in touch with Moharram Ansari and Naushad Seth, both leather craftsmen,from Bihar, who lived in the slum.
Zaffar described Moharram and Naushad as honest and hardworking, having known them for a long time. Realising that they managed to help 10 families with ration packets for two weeks motivated them to do something more.
Together They Achieved A Good Result
Zaffar proudly shared how his children and wife helped him by requesting donations from friends and relatives. The response they received was amazing; everyone, regardless of religion, came forward to contribute. Simultaneously, Moharram and Naushad brought the effort to life by carrying it out with utmost sincerity. They collected names and numbers of families that were in need of help and shared it with Zaffar.
“Everything was carried out on a humanitarian basis, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. I usually called up the families for understanding the genuineness of their needs and coordinating deliveries. Slowly I began getting more calls requesting for help. All of us – my family, Moharram and Naushad, and myself, tried our best. ”
“Everything was carried out on a humanitarian basis, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.”
However, Zaffar Still Has Regrets
“We feel sorry till today that we couldn’t help everyone.”
When asked about the major challenges they faced, Zaffar didn’t think twice before saying, “The only challenge we faced was that there were never enough ration packets. Since we had limited funds and a specific number of packets, if even one extra person asked for help, we couldn’t do it. And there were lots of people who were in need and asked us for help. We feel sorry till today that we couldn’t help everyone.”
All’s well that ends well
Further, Zaffar happily shared “There were families that did not even have enough money to purchase milk for their infants. A kind donor showed up and sponsored milk for 46 infants.” In the wee hours of the morning as the lockdown eased, Naushad ensured timely purchase and delivery of the milk, a slight delay would have meant a child going hungry. Now that Naushad has travelled back to Bihar, the responsibility has been taken over by Moharram.
The hard work of the three gentlemen helped 200 families survive for half a month. What’s commendable is that with their appreciable teamwork, driven purely by compassion and sympathy, they reached remote corners of Dharavi that were extremely difficult to access during the lockdown. They did all this while adhering to the curfew guidelines and other restrictions imposed by the authorities, which called for merciless beating from policemen for the slightest slip up. The entire effort heavily relied on trust and honesty. Though the pandemic brought in discomfort and worry, it couldn’t dampen Zaffar’s spirit and the empathy amongst the people of Dharavi.