An archive of hope

Updated: 15 September, 2020 10:02 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

A project aims to document acts of compassion during the pandemic across the country through stories, art and poetry

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And that journey needs to be chronicled now more than ever. This month, we learnt that India's GDP growth had contracted by 23.9 per cent through April, May and June.

"Right now, people who don't have enough are already at the bad end. While some of us are locked up at home, others are on the streets, hungry and unemployed. The apathy towards the marginalised is very clear in India but at the same time there's this spurt of citizen movements," Delhi-based development consultant and activist Nida Ansari says, adding, "People who have never done relief work before are now out on the streets —taking care of strays in their area or starting parallel collectives to deliver ration. Take, for instance, Pune-based Two Meals Extra where the idea is, since you're cooking for your family anyway, you just cook a few meals extra for the needy."

Pune-based Two Meals Extra has been helping the needy with food
Pune-based Two Meals Extra has been helping the needy with food

Rooted in this idea, Ansari and Pooja Dhingra, a graphic designer and art director, have initiated Compassion Contagion, which they say is, "an online archive that will record acts of compassion in the time of the pandemic in India." The duo also received a grant, worth over R2 lakh, from the University of York (Centre for Applied Human Rights) supported by the Open Society Foundations under the fund Arctivists to run the project. Ansari adds that they are exploring intersectional stories of compassion that are overlooked by the mainstream media; stories of everyday people, not celebrities. "For us, compassion is not rosy; it also implies resilience, solidarity and struggle. There's pain but there's also hope and innovation," she shares.

The archive created via a website will include stories, interviews, photo essays, art, illustrations, collages and graphic narratives. In addition, they will also release a free, downloadable zine.

Pooja Dhingra and Nida Ansari
Pooja Dhingra and Nida Ansari

"We discussed the initiative in March end, and then started interviewing people who were doing relief work across Indian cities. That's how the proposal for the grant came together and we ended up receiving it. The grant is a five-month-long one and our work will be uploaded on a website starting November. But we have so much material — by December end we'll cross 100 interviews — that we hope to sustain the project for a year," Dhingra says.

Currently in the research phase, they post open calls for stories on their social media handles. In the next two months, the team is on the lookout for subaltern voices — specifically writers and illustrators from the North East and Kashmir. They've hired two interns and have had people approach them for volunteering, but want to pay everyone given that it is a difficult time. "So, we need to raise more funds for that but also ensure that our project remains independent — we don't want any interference in our stories," Dhingra asserts.

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First Published: 15 September, 2020 09:37 IST

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