Thank You Corona Warriors!

Kailash Tandel networks with professor, friends to raise nearly ₹2 lakh; distributes 280 packets of essentials

Two of the Academy’s scholars, Kailash Tandel and Radhik Rammohan, have been doing exemplary work in these trying times.While Radhik has been helping the IITB community by contributing to all the efforts of IITB administration in keeping the campus and its residents safe,  Kailash, who is a fisherman’s son and also the first visually challenged PhD scholar on our rolls, has emerged as one of the youth leaders taking charge of looking after his community, which consists almost entirely of daily wage workers.

Appended below is an article that was published in ‘The Hindu’ recognising his efforts.

Kailash Tandel (35) had to go back home to Machimar Nagar in Cuffe Parade from his hostel in IIT Bombay, where he is pursuing his PhD, when the novel coronavirus began to gain a foothold in the city. Mr. Tandel was no stranger to the hardships his community faced, but this time, he was filled with dread. The locality has poor hygiene, the fisherfolk who live in the area have had a bad run at sea for months and the lockdown has added to their financial distress. Mr. Tandel, who is visually challenged, lives with his parents and four siblings — three of whom are visually challenged too — in a 12×22 feet home. “The issue is not just how people in my locality will earn enough to feed themselves but also the environment in which they live,” he said. He knew he had to do something to alleviate their suffering.

Systematic effort
Mr. Tandel’s starting point for relief work was data collection, and his research background came in handy. He is attached to the Sociology Department, which comes under the Humanities and Social Sciences umbrella at IIT. Mr. Tandel classified the people most in need in his locality into three categories: those who are economically challenged, widows with no financial support, and persons with disability. “The data shocked me,” he said. “There were 22 persons with disabilities. Thankfully, no one in the community is infected so far. But if someone does test positive, what will be the condition of persons with disability, especially since we use public toilets? Also, what are the arrangements for quarantining them?”

Mr. Tandel soon found out that professors in his institute were involved in relief work, and reached out to his guide. Mr. Tandel began to reach out to people through social media, and the funds started to pour in, including from a professor who Mr. Tandel had met for “just two minutes” last year. She gave ₹1 lakh for the effort,“as she had confidence in me,” he said. At home, he took his brother’s help to stick a pamphlet outside their door offering help. All that the recipients had do was provide their name, Aadhaar number, phone number and bank account details. The idea was to ensure there was no duplication, and money could be transferred if required.

He also connected with his former professors at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and NGOs. With their help, he has managed to distribute 280 packets containing essentials in his locality. He has collected ₹1,95,000 for relief work so far, and has tied up with a retailer in the neighbourhood for supplies. Mr. Tandel works systematically in the community, with nearly 15 volunteers. Distribution is done in a temple, typically in the afternoon, sanitisation and social distancing norms are followed, and the team maintains a log. “We call out to them one by one, and they sign saying they have received supplies. We take pictures of the receipt and send it to the donors.”

Before Mr. Tandel reached out to his own community, he had collected ₹5,000 for an autorickshaw driver near IIT, who had told him he had nothing to eat and was without work. He has also now received a call from Murti Nagar near Koliwada where 30 taxi drivers have been asking for rations. Apart from these, Mr. Tandel has reached out to people in coastal villages in Palghar, where he hails from. “People in Mumbai have help from NGOs, but such access is not easy in villages,” he said. He has deposited ₹37,000 into accounts of people in five to six villages in the district. “The list is growing,” he said.

Together for a cause
Mr. Tandel was familiar with the hardship his community has faced over the years. His parents sell flowers for a living, but that earning has now dried up, and the family is dependent on his brother’s earnings from fishing, as well as Mr. Tandel’s stipend. His PhD work focuses on how his community in Mumbai is adapting to changes in the land they inhabit as well as the waters from which they get their livelihood. “My research will help me understand more about my community, and think about why we haven’t developed. I can share these inputs with policy makers,” he said.

Mr. Tandel has not let his personal struggles — and there have been many over the years, related to his disability as well as environmental deprivation — come in the way of his ambitions or desire to help those in need. He conducts sensitisation programmes at his institute on what it means to have a visual disability, besides training programmes called ‘Possibilities’, where he helps people from all walks of life to tap into their inner strengths.

His guide, Professor D. Parthasarathy of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke of his determination and effort. “He’s someone who never gets discouraged,” he said. What keeps Mr. Tandel going is the desire to see people come together for a cause. “All of us need to lend a hand so we can reach as many people as possible. It’s time for us to look after the survival of those in need. In that lies the idea of nation-building.”

Kailash was also featured on a popular a TV channel. Click here.