Nature's fury met a worthy response in people power. Hours after the devastation that shattered lives in the Kutch belt, activist groups, civic associations, charitable institutions and religious societies rushed in. Defying popular cynicism that believes ngos today are as bureaucratic, lethargic and corrupt as government itself, samaritan outfits the state over galvanised civic society into action.
What went right here? Why were Gujarat's ngos in such a state of preparedness? Why indeed are there so many ngos in the state?
"It's Gujarat's Gandhian legacy," says Achyut Yagnik of Ahmedabad's Centre for Social Knowledge and Action. The Gandhi Peace Foundation's Anupam Mishra gives an interesting twist to Yagnik's argument: "Gujarat was a part of Gandhi's tradition, not the other way round. The belief in community, in sharing and helping is a part of the Gujarati mindset." Anand-based Verghese Kurien, father of the movement which gave birth to the brand Amul, agrees: "People in Gujarat are businesslike. They made a leader out of a Malayali Christian like me just as I delivered."
Also, those in the business of samaritanship point out they've had abundant practice at relief work of late. This was the fifth natural calamity in the state—what with the last two cyclones and two droughts in these past two years. It took barely any time before a network of 200 ngos began relief work under the aegis of Janpath Citizen's Initiatives.
The ordinary Gujarati's contribution has been remarkable too. Nimisha Desai of Ahmedabad's feminist ngo Olakh says: "However poor, every household gave something." The Gujarati spirit shone through as help poured in from their hugely networked community the world over. The nri Gujju, the Mumbai Kutchi, neighbourhood Gujarati societies continue helping. All celebrations are on hold for a year and funds diverted for Kutch's rehabilitation. Because when people help themselves, homes can be rebuilt.
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