Discipline and coordination are the hallmarks of the Burhani Guards International (BGI) – a task force organisation within the Dawoodi Bohra community who act as facilitators of flow and management during community events. With the strictures of the lockdown and the uncertainty of the virus, the vulnerable sections of society were left exposed and without recourse, especially in India. Addressing the need of the hour, the organisation quickly mobilised and offered voluntary services to help serve the hungry by distributing cooked meals and food rations to thousands of people across India and the world.
‘We had 190 teams internationally who were serving people with food and delivering rations and other essentials on a daily basis during their respective lockdowns’ says Husain Shakir, the head of the organisation, adding that ‘the well established system of management made it easy for everyone to communicate and carry out the tasks with efficiency.’
One of the commanders of the Mumbai unit, Yusuf Plasticwala, said that the BGI became a ‘human resource bank’ throughout the lockdown period. They were called upon by the municipal corporation (BMC) to help in serving different parts of the city which also happened to be a major hotspot during the pandemic.
A group of 300 volunteers mobilised everyday to discharge services. The BGI were asked by the BMC to adorn their organisational uniforms whilst on duty. They were ferried in BMC cars and BEST buses to designated distribution areas. In addition to the government agency, they also collaborated with NGOs such as GIANTS group, NGO NESH and ChhotiSiAsha and provided them with networking services. In total, they helped these organisations deliver 30,000 packets of food on a daily basis.
For the Burhani Guards it was a motivational experience. They used to eagerly wait for each day’s plan and were ready to serve upon the first call to duty. Yusuf says, ‘Even though we didn’t put in a significant amount of financial effort required to cook food, we shelled out our blood and sweat to serve, where some of our members even contracted the virus. Despite all these dangers, we were never bogged down.’ Members served nearly 850 food packets on a daily basis and 3000 ration kits on a personal level in and around the city.
Ali Raipurwala of Ratlam says the unit in Ratlam had similar experiences in delivering food especially on the highways to those who had decided to walk back home. Raipurwala says it was a poignantly moving endeavour and the eyes of the volunteers used to well up upon delivering food to the migrants. This experience forged an emotional connect with the people and motivated the volunteers to serve with more vigour. The Mumbai team had similar experiences when providing meals to the labourers going back home in the special ‘Shramik’ trains during the lockdown.
In addition to serving food, the BGI also provided all government workers, civil servants and police officers with tea twice a day.
In Indore, a member of the BGI team, Khozema Bootwala was invited to attend a meeting convened by the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in devising a plan for providing relief during the lockdown. The BGI in Indore distributed more than 500 food packets to various slum areas on a daily basis. More than 150 volunteers helped in the packaging of food packets at distribution centers. The local authorities conducted regular inspections of the environment where the food was prepared and packaged. Their efforts were widely appreciated by the authorities.
The most fulfilling aspect of this entire campaign, says Yusuf Plasticwala, was that despite the circumstances and the looming threat of the virus, volunteers were more than eager to step out and render this crucial service at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.
We salute the services of these Food Heroes who worked tirelessly during the lockdown to deliver food and aid to the thousands in need.