Riyaz Hashmi lost his job before the pandemic, yet managed to provide food for 10,000 people

By Aas Mohammed Kaif

The COVID-19 pandemic has left close to two crore people without a job since April. This, coupled with the uncertainty over what the future entails, has left many people worried, tensed and often, hungry. But beyond stories of despair lie numerous stories of communal harmony, inspiration and people overcoming severe odds to help those in need. 

The story of Riyaz Hashmi is one such example. 

Hashmi belongs to Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and has taken it upon himself to feed thousands of poor people during the lockdown and providing them with ration as and when possible. 

Hashmi lost his job during the pandemic and was facing a monetary crunch. However, a single incident changed his heart completely and spurred him along with his companions to ensure that more than 10,000 families do not face any difficulty during the first 50 days of the Lockdown.

“I merely had Rs.30,000 as my saving at that time.  There were no provisions in my home for more than seven days, and then the lockdown was announced. People got merely four-hour notice and there was a heavy rush at the ration shop. Prices spiralled and like others, I also tried to shop for essential commodities,” Hashmi told The Site. 

Talking about the incident which made him realise how serious the problem was for others, Hashmi recounts, “I received a phone call from Khatakhedi Mohalla of Saharanpur. It was from one of my friends.” 

There were three sisters, Hashmi said, all widows, who had come to his friend’s house during the lockdown declaration and were selling their household utensils to buy provisions as they had no money. 

“My friend had helped them as best as he could,” Hashmi said, “but this incident brought tears to my eyes. For some reason, it hurt me a lot. I requested my friend helped those girls immediately. Now I wanted to help all those who need help. But my pocket did not allow me to do so,” he added. 

“At that time, I had Rs.30,000 in my account. I decided to spend this amount to help poor families. But I could help only a few families with this meagre amount. 

It is then that Hashmi thought of coming up with a different approach. “Due to my literary background and social standing, I thought it necessary to convey the help appeal to all people at once,” he said. He went on to form a WhatsApp group ‘Covid-19 Help for Needy’ and began to seek help from his colleagues. One of the group members, Gurpreet Singh Bagga, offered to launch “Langar Service” (a kitchen food service). Some offered ration while others offered masks and sanitizers. After checking the prices, the group bought good quality foodstuffs at the wholesale rate. 

Hashmi said the task became easier when people started joining the group in larger numbers. Money was pouring in but it was more important to reach the needy people. “Luckily, we got quite a few youths who were working selflessly day in and day out without seeking anything in return," he added. 

Riyaz narrated a moving incident of how people were facing a dilemma of asking for help during the lockdown.  “I cannot forget one particular face. There was this respectful looking old man with his grandson near Banjara Bridge in Saharanpur. We were there to deliver food packets to the crowds. He was obviously hungry and wanted a food packet, but he was tongue-tied with shame. When I said ‘Babaji do you need food packet’ the tears just rolled down his cheeks and he said nothing. The little grandson who was hungry too could not stop himself and said ‘Dadu, Roti.' I could not control my tears," he said. 

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