KARACHI: Wearing gloves, and face masks, a group of 15 volunteers huddle at a distance with each other, beside a stash of groceries in a large room in eastern district of Karachi.
Among them is Sunil Harsi, one of the many Hindu volunteers who have joined hands with different relief agencies to provide rations, and sanitation products to low-income masses amid a raging coronavirus outbreak that has put the country under a crippling lockdown.
A grinding economic slowdown, a direct result of the global COVID-19 outbreak, has particularly hit nearly 25% of the country’s over 200 million population, which lives below poverty line.
The country has reported a total of 60 deaths as the number of coronavirus cases have surpassed 4,200 as of Wednesday.
Harsi, 32, a city councillor for Jamaat-e-Islami, has actively been taking part in relief efforts carried out by the party’s charity wing Al-Khidmat Foundation in Karachi’s eastern district for over a month.
“I come here every day at noon to attend this meeting to chalk out the plan for the day. One day we collect and pack relief goods donated by philanthropists and distribute them on the next day,” Harsi said.
He and his colleagues have been assigned to operate in two slums areas in Gulshan-e-Iqbal town, a middle-income bracket locality.
For distribution of relief goods, they mostly use motorbikes or small vehicles to drive through the narrow streets of the slums.
“We do not gather people on the streets to distribute rations in order to observe social distancing. We deliver rations at the doorsteps,” Harsi said, adding “I was born and raised in this area. Who’s needy and who’s not, I know very well”.
Adnan Sadiq, a young Christian volunteer, who too is part of the group, counts his involvement in the operation as a pride.
“I am proud to be part of this [relief campaign]. In this way, I am contributing something to the society, and my own community as well,” Sadiq, 22, who joined the relief activities two weeks ago, said.
He gave credit to his Muslim friends for bringing him in.
“I feel myself proud as I am not the one seeking help but I am helping others. It’s all because of my Muslim friends whose selfless efforts for the needy masses inspired me to join them,” he said.
Around a dozen Christian and Hindu volunteers from his area, he said, were working with different charities.
Seema Maheshwari, a human rights activist who too has been engaged in rations distribution among needy people in different parts of Karachi, thanked the Muslim community for assisting her efforts.
“I started my efforts in collaboration with my family and some friends with limited resources. But soon, my Muslim friends and philanthropists joined hands with us,” Maheshwari, a Hindu by religion, said.
“I am really thankful to my Muslim brothers and sisters who have trusted my efforts, and provided us rations, and other essential goods for the poor masses,” she went on to say, adding several other Muslim philanthropists have assured her of their support.
So far, Maheshwari has distributed rations among 250 families in different parts of the city.
“We are distributing rations among needy Hindus, Christians, and even Muslims. It’s not about religion, race or community. It’s all about humanity,” she maintained.
The country’s tiny Sikh community is also contributing its share to provide relief to the low-income people, who have been badly hit by the economic meltdown, a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, an organisation that deals with religious affairs of the Sikh community in Pakistan, has already allotted portions at scores of gurdwaras — worship places — as isolation cells for suspected coronavirus patients.
In addition, according to Charanjeet Singh, a community leader, rations and cooked food were being distributed among needy people irrespective of their religious affiliation, in the gurdwaras in Karachi, Peshawar, Nanakana Sahib — the birthplace of of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion — and other districts.
Haris and Sadiq also act as a link between their foundation and the respective communities.
“I have also been appointed in-charge of rations distribution [by Al-Khidmat Foundation] among needy Hindus as I know my community more than anyone else,” Harsi said.
“I have personally handed over rations to around 150 Hindu families at their doorsteps in my locality,” he added.
Similarly, Sadiq has been assigned to collect the data and deliver rations to the needy Christian families in his area of operation.
Hindus and Christians make up 4% and 3% of the total population of Muslim-majority Pakistan, respectively, whereas, the number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000-40,000.