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Project Aahar: Reaching out to the people on the streets in Dimapur

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Prasanjit Dutta
DIMAPUR, NOVEMBER 6: Every Sunday morning, outside the gate of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, Dimapur, around 40 to 50 people gather and patiently wait in a line for a group of young men and women to emerge, and this has been the routine since August 2020.
The gate of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School is one of the three prime spots in Dimapur where people gather every Sunday for a meal, the contents of which are decided weekly and changed often, and it is ensured that meat, fish and food items that go beyond the identity of “need” to what can be considered as “want” be part of the meals.
The project to provide a good meal to those who live on the streets in the city of Dimapur is primarily an initiative of the SK Dutta (Kalu Dutta) and PK Dutta Foundation and three months since it started, people now can recognize the red vehicle that carries the food packets from afar and the persons involved in it.
While SK Dutta and PK Dutta Foundation spearheads the project and bears all the required expenditure, the Dimapur Bengali Students’ Union (DBSU) takes care of the distribution of the packets.
It is the DBSU which settled on the name of the project as “Aahar” with the motto “every mouth counts.” Aahar is a Bengali term for “food.”
The volunteers of DBSU work closely with the Foundation and decide how the distribution is to be implemented, who would be assigned with what responsibility and who would be replacing whom so that the meals can reach the people without any interruption week after week.
Talking to Nagaland Page, Deep Debnath, General Secretary of DBSU who has been actively involved in the project from the beginning said that the Union wanted to do something for the people and thus had reached out to Neena Dutta of SK Dutta and PK Dutta Foundation who had a similar vision.
Deep informed that every Sunday people gather outside the gate of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School for the food packets from where the process of distribution starts, and after that the members of the Union move out to a spot near the Gurudwara Sahib, where there would be 60-70 more people waiting for them. Once the packets are distributed among them, the members move to the rail gate auto stand with the remaining packets.
Presently, close to around 160 packets are distributed every Sunday, which has been increased steadily because of the increasing number of people.
Deep said that when the project started in the month of August, they could not even distribute all the packets they prepared, but quickly the people picked up the pattern and started following a routine and so the number of packets had to be increased. He added that there is a possibility that the number of people would further increase in future and there are plans in place to meet future requirements.
He said that because of the pandemic, the Union and the Foundation cannot make arrangements to bring people together in a designated place and distribute the food as that would cause gathering of a large number of people and it would be difficult to maintain the SOPs but once things get better, the idea would be explored.
In order to not litter the streets with the remnants and packets, the Foundation, DBSU and Lions Club of Dimapur Japfu worked together and installed two garbage bins and those receiving the packets are constantly reminded to dispose the packets in the bins.
Sharing details about the project with Nagaland Page in her office at St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, Dimapur, Neena Dutta said that their family had settled in Nagaland in the year 1932 and since then the members of the family had been involved in a number of activities relating to the betterment of the society though they avoided making a public display of it and the Foundation and the works being carried out under its banner is a legacy of that.
Claiming that the Dutta family has never been a “business family” she quipped that though the family has done much for Dimapur and the state, people tend to forget the works and thus the Foundation and its project is also a way through which the works of the family are kept alive. She mentioned that she was inspired by the service rendered by the Sikh community to initiate Aahar and it had been in her mind for a long time, and if DBSU had not reached out it might have taken a bit longer to execute the project.

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Initially, the plan was to provide vegetarian foods, she said, but later it was decided that the packets would contain non-vegetarian and nutritious food. However, she feels there are a few people who can work for food but are also standing in queue for the packets and she doesn’t want to start a wrong trend.
She further mentioned that besides Aahar, the Foundation is also involved in a number of other projects one of which is providing spectacles to those who cannot afford it and it is open to collaborations and supports.
Neena Dutta, who is the Principal of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, Dimapur, underscored that the Foundation and the project are independent of the school and the monetary requirements are fulfilled using the fund created by her father-in-law and renowned social worker late Kalu Dutta for philanthropic activities.
For DBSU too, ‘Aahar’ has been one of the one of the many projects that the Union is involved in and for 5 months the Union has volunteered to supervise the maintenance of the quarantine centre set up at Kali Bari, Dimapur, and there were times when things became too difficult to carry on but as many people particularly from the Bengali community preferred the centre and looked up to it, the members of the Union continued volunteering.
The Union is now drawing its plan to commence its annual free coaching classes for those HSLC aspirants who come from financially weak families irrespective of community and religion, which in 2019, had grabbed the attention of Nagaland’s Minister of Higher & Technical Education & Tribal Affairs Temjen Imna Along Longkumer and he had extended financial support towards the initiative.

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