Since the second wave of COVID-19 hit India, our medical infrastructure has been overburdened owing to a record-breaking spike. Amidst all of that, many citizens have come forward to selflessly help those in need. Students from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) are among those who have assisted patients by arranging oxygen supplies, beds and other medical resources.
Following the police crackdown in AMU on December 15, 2019, a group of students formed the Aligarh Muslim University Coordination Committee (AMUCC), which has been active on the ground since then, and more so during the pandemic. After distributing ration last year, the committee is now delivering liquid oxygen to patients.
“Is mushkil waqt me kisi ko toh aage aana padega (Someone will have to step out during these difficult times),” said Amir Mintoe, AMUCC’s founder and managing member. Mintoe and his colleague Dr Raza decided to invest Rs 1.5 lakh each after witnessing the deaths of their acquaintances owing to a lack of oxygen. According to Mintoe, who feels the system has failed, Aligarh is in a state of crisis.
The committee, consisting of 20 members, has been on the ground since April 22, 2020. It has installed an oxygen centre at AMU’s Aftab hall, where it offers 24-hour service and free oxygen to those in need.
Similarly, students at Jamia Millia Islamia – under a different umbrella – are working round the clock for the benefit of people. Mahmood Anwar, a PhD student at the institute, has devoted himself to coronavirus patients since April 20, 2020, and has provided free oxygen cylinders to at least 150 homes in a rotational manner.
Anwar, a resident of Abul Fazal, Okhla, who began by purchasing two large cylinders on his own, now has over 40 cylinders, thanks to donors.
After witnessing tragedies one after another, he feels many people died as a result of a lack of resources. “Na jaane kitne bachche anaath hone se bach sakte the agar waqt pe oxygen mil jati (Many children wouldn’t have become orphans if their parents had received oxygen supply on time), remarked Anwar, who has supplied cylinders in areas such as Lajpat Nagar, CR Park, Noida, and so on.
When it comes to the possibility of getting exposed to the virus, Anwar takes every precaution and believes that death is inevitable, and he can’t stay home when people are pleading for help.
When asked about the chances of contracting the virus, one of the members of AMUCC expressed a similar sentiment. “Maut to aani hi hai, magar aise logo ko marta nahi dekh sakte (Death is inevitable, but we can not see anyone dying from oxygen shortage),” said Syed Aatif, who manages and authorises the discharge of all cylinders after the verification process.
Aatif, who resides only ten minutes away from the oxygen centre, has not been home in a month, fearing that he might infect his parents. “Ham ghar nahin jana chahte kyunki agar ham ghar chale gaye to yahan kaun dekhega (We don’t want to go home, if we go, who will manage all of this),” said Aatif, who worked on the occasion of Eid as well.
Despite the challenges encountered by the committee during the refilling procedure – since they would have their cylinders refilled from Ghaziabad and Noida – the members are hesitant to abandon vulnerable people. “Agar hamare na jaane se kisi ko khushi mil rahi hai, acha hai, Eid itni badi cheez nahi hai (If our presence becomes the reason for someone’s happiness, then it’s fine; Eid isn’t a priority),” said Mohammed Firoz, a graduate student at AMU from Araria, Bihar.
Not only are individuals are providing physical resources, but they are also doing their best to offer verified information on oxygen, availability of beds, and Remdesivir injections by amplifying SOS calls on social media. Mehfil-e-Jamia, an Instagram page created in 2017 for the community, has committed itself to helping coronavirus patients during these challenging times.
As per the administrator of the page, a Jamia student, it has effectively become a medium for providing leads on 200+ oxygen cylinders, 200+ medicines, 100+ medical equipment, and information on 300+ plasma donors. Because there is too much unverified information available on social media, the page has proven effective in filtering out unverified leads, thereby saving people’s time. The page’s administrator says that the “system did not collapse, but was only exposed during the second wave of the pandemic”.
Salman Saleem is a post-graduate student at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.
All images provided by the author