It’s probably an understatement to say that the last few months have been challenging. COVID-19 upturned our schedules, filled us with fear and suspicion and plunged millions of people in India and the world into a crisis affecting access to food, livelihood and standard of living. Physical distancing norms and lockdown have also resulted in increasing gender-based injustice, with domestic violence being termed as a ‘shadow pandemic’ and women and girls taking up a disproportionate amount of housework and child care, even when men are at home.
It was against this backdrop that Cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh. As a resident of Kolkata, where the cyclone has been termed as the worst in living memory, the experience of the cyclone and its aftermath has been overwhelming. In the city, countless trees have fallen, electric wires and lamp posts have short circuited or have tangled with trees, cutting off power and water supply for many, and houses have been flooded, with windows breaking and tin roofs flying away. The impact has been especially severe in the surrounding districts of North and South 24 Parganas (including the Sunderbans), where trees, embankments, houses, fishery ponds and farmlands were destroyed.
I recognise that I am extremely lucky to have electricity, water, limited internet connection and the privilege to type this article right now. I’m still trying to make sense of what is going on around me and to understand how we can begin the long journey of healing. But there is one thing I have understood: one thing we need now, more than ever, is care.
What does this mean? There are many dictionary definitions of ‘care’, but my understanding of this concept combines two of these “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of someone or something” and “feeling concern or interest; attaching importance to something”. Care, therefore, is both a feeling and an activity. For most of us, I don’t think this idea is very new: I, for one, was brought up constantly being told to think about or care for others. And it’s no secret that widespread inequality, marginalisation and stigmatisation of fellow human beings needs to be addressed through acts of care.
I don’t intend this as some kind of moral imperative. I also don’t mean that we should see ‘acts of care’ as charitable acts of giving to someone weaker than us: we need to respect the autonomy of the people we are supporting and enable them to empower themselves to make their own choices. And I certainly do not want to imply that we should care for others at the expense of ourselves (Self-care is essential and many of the individually focused practices on Stories of Hope talk about different techniques of caring for oneself). By emphasising the importance of and need for care, I simply want to point out that the survival and wellbeing of human beings depends on acts of care.
If there is one thing the COVID-19 lockdown has shown us, it is that most ‘essential services’ are centred around acts of care: cooking, childcare, teaching, and, of course physical and mental health care. And these are not just isolated acts; this is care work, consisting of activities done on a sustained and regular basis, involving both physical and emotional labour. Whether we look at doctors, nurses and community health workers tirelessly striving to cure infected people; relief workers receiving requests for help and going out into the field to distribute food and medicine to those in need; mental health professionals transitioning their services to phone and online modes to help people cope with anxiety and stress; teachers figuring out how to sustain classes; people selling and delivering groceries and food; security guards; family members cooking for us at home; friends sending over food; or our loved ones giving us a space to talk when we are frustrated; we are sustained (not only during the lockdown but also otherwise) through care work. The ‘Corona-warriors’ are actually ‘Corona-carers’: that is why we need them so much.
During times such as the present, when everything seems too overwhelming to make sense of, we turn to acts of care. These could consist of providing essential goods and services to people who were stripped of them all within 4 hours of a storm, checking in on people you know in affected areas and seeing if you can give them something they need, donating to relief efforts, and others.
The dust is still settling, are we are unsure of what the full impact of Cyclone Amphan (added on to COVID) is, because many phone connections have been disrupted. Whatever these impacts may be, acts of care will be instrumental in the long process of healing.
Here are some things that you can do right now:
1.Check in with the people you know who are in Amphan affected areas. Ask them what they need: this could be food, help accessing water supply, a place to stay temporarily while making repairs, or simply a space to talk. Understand the extent to which you can help them with this or ways you can leverage your networks.
2.Donate supplies to organisations reaching cyclone-affected people (if you are nearby). You can do this individually or in groups with neighbours or members of Resident Welfare Associations. Some organisations inviting donations in kind are: Goonj and We Care Initiatve.
Note: Please make sure to call them up and understand the logistics of making a donation- What COVID-related precautions would you need to take if you have to go out?
3.Donate money to relief initiatives. These include: government funds like the West Bengal State Emergency Relief Fund; student led initatives like JU Commune and Quarantined Student Youth Network; online fundraisers for causes such as restoring the College Street Boipara and Mayuri by Calcutta Foundation’s initiative to support daily wage workers; as well as established NGOs such as Ebong Alap and Sunderban Social Development Centre (SSDC).
The growing list of initiatives working on Amphan relief, and details on how to contribute, can be found on a Google Sheet through this link.
Stay on the lookout for more ways to engage in acts of care.
As we try to make our way through these uncertain and overwhelming times, I’m leaving you with a a quote from Anne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair:
“…most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild whole towns after hurricanes and tornadoes. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organise an overseas clothing drive and do your laundry. You can also offer to do other people’s laundry…”
Co-Founder, Editor and Author
I am a feminist, bookworm, occasional writer and perpetual learner. I work at Kolkata Sanved, an NGO that uses Dance Movement Therapy for healing and empowering marginalised communities, and I’m currently training to be a Dance Movement Therapy Practitioner.
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org