Man who helped Kutch during 2001 earthquake now takes on COVID-19 in district

Updated: 13 November, 2020 07:30 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

The man who played a part in getting Kutch back on its feet after the devastating quake of 2001 is now at the forefront of the region's battle against Covid

Dinesh Sanghvi at his house presently. It was reconstructed through donations
Dinesh Sanghvi at his house presently. It was reconstructed through donations

The COVID-19 pandemic is a new experience for many, but for Dinesh Sanghvi, it has brought back memories of another calamity — the earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat almost 20 years ago. The septuagenarian, helping his village battle the pandemic, shares with mid-day his experience of surviving two calamities.

"In 2001, only Kutch suffered. Today, the whole world is suffering. I believe the situation is not as fatal as the earthquake. We have suffered before, we can come out of this too. We have social distancing, hygiene, immunity-boosting food, and healthy mental and physical activities to protect us. But we are so used to our lifestyles that following all measures is difficult," said Sanghvi, 71. He runs an NGO, Gram Swaraj Sangh (GSS), founded by his father Mani Bhai Sanghvi in 1978.

A Gandhian, Sanghvi assumed leadership of his NGO during the earthquake, to empower villages.

Experiencing the quake

Based in Nilpar village in Rapar city, Sanghvi, addressed by villagers as Dinesh bhai, Sanghvi clearly remembers the January 26, 2001 quake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale.

"Government records show the death toll as 13,500 but it was actually 25,000. It feels like it happened only yesterday," said Sanghvi, who lives with his wife, Rekha, 64, in a house provided by the GSS. The house, damaged in the quake, was reconstructed through donations.

Dinesh Sanghvi’s damaged house after the 2001 quake
Dinesh Sanghvi's damaged house after the 2001 quake

"My 80-year-old father fell from the stairs as he struggled to escape from our second-floor accommodation. The quake affected him psychologically. He died seven years later," said Sanghvi, who did his bachelors in Rural studies in Agriculture and farms for a living.

"While helping the people after the quake, I realised the gravity of the situation and my responsibility towards the society. I came across Child Rights and You (CRY) workers who were helping children deal with the trauma. They established daycare centres in a very short time. I joined them and worked under the GSS banner," Sanghvi said.

GSS works towards making villages self-sustained, empowered and independent. Since the Sanghvi family had a sound financial background, they were able to raise funds for their work. They secured funding to rebuild schools and residential units after the earthquake.

Sanghvi believes his work empowered him and others to work for child rights and children's welfare. Sanghvi, through CRY has worked to uplift children and the community in health and education sectors in 23 vands of Kutch district. They built activity centres in 30 villages/vands (hamlet) where children do not have access to schools.

Sanghvi's work also involves providing development opportunities by strengthening the ICDS system, capacity building of communities and state systems for ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development) and building the agency of children.

Also Read: Finance Minister announces Rs 900 crore aid for COVID-19 vaccine research

Sanghvi added, "I have never earned anything above Rs 2 lakhs per annum, and do not own any house even today. All my three children (two daughters and a son), could finish their education, as my siblings would take care of their education and marriage expenses. The only property I have is the ancestral 12 acres of farm and my siblings gave their share to me, otherwise, I have nothing."

Rupal Bhai Koli, a daily wage worker, has been assisted by Dinesh Sanghvi’s NGO Gram Swaraj Sangh. Koli has a family of seven
Rupal Bhai Koli, a daily wage worker, has been assisted by Dinesh Sanghvi’s NGO Gram Swaraj Sangh. Koli has a family of seven

"As per the teachings of my elders, I have divided the land into three parts — one-third for growing seasonal crops, one-third for fruits and one-third for growing pasture land, and the earnings are only from the sale of this produce," he said.

Experiencing COVID

With regard to COVID, Sanghvi believes that such disasters are an acid test for society and the nation. "There is conflict between individual freedom and collective responsibility. The first task right now is to think, act and behave as responsible citizens," he says. His organisation has been providing dry rations and supporting COVID-affected families avail government schemes.

"GSS got a donation of Rs 20 lakh during the lockdown. Of this, Rs 2 lakh came from CRY. Nearly 3,000 families in remote areas have been supported with dry ration," said Sanghvi.

One of the most-affected sections are daily wagers and migrant workers who lost livelihoods. Sanghvi cites the story of Rupal Bhai Koli, a daily wage worker with a family of seven.

Sanghvi believes that the pandemic is worse than the quake and has raised anxiety and fear among the poor. "In our project area, no COVID cases have been reported. But the wife of a pharmacist from a Public Health Centre (PHC) under the GSS project area died of it and her husband tested positive. A doctor from another PHC was infected too. We have seen a 50 per cent drop in the number of outpatients amid COVID," he said.

Dinesh Sanghvi
Dinesh Sanghvi

"There was widespread help for the Kutch disaster, where the number of affected were relatively less, and normalcy was achieved. In COVID, the effect is slow but deep. You do not see a house falling down but the loss of livelihoods and the fear factor targets the roots of the family," Sanghvi said.

Also Read: Herd immunity may come before COVID-19 vaccine goes off the shelf: AIIMS Director

"Even if there are no deaths due to COVID so far, the psychological impact is far worse. While relief workers came to assist after the earthquake, no one can come now and say don't worry, we are with you," Sanghvi said.

"COVID has also increased gender inequalities, with increased incidents of children dropping out of school, child marriages, gender-based violence, and child labour," he concluded and excused himself from the interview to return to his fight against COVID and to help his community and its children.

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First Published: 13 November, 2020 07:14 IST

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