As someone who’s been on Twitter for more than a decade now, I recently had a moment to pause and think about all the relief work for disasters and crises I’ve seen on there over the years. From #AssamFloodRelief in 2012 to #NEFloodRelief in 2014 to #JKFloodRelief in 2015 and so on till our most recent crisis, #COVIDEmergency. Seeing communities come together to each others aid was not necessarily new – but this crisis saw an outpouring of a different kind. We saw volunteers spring up across the country doing scores of things including finding medical facilities for ailing people, finding medicines needed and raising funds to support migrants wanting to return home before the lockdowns, supporting exorbitant medical bills or rent and food for those forced out of jobs because of the pandemic. It was reported that “519,000 individual accounts engaged with emergency tweets between March 1-April 21, connecting users to medical resources”. A whole system of volunteers built on the go – as the existing public and healthcare infrastructure in India collapsed.
As the crisis continued and raged across the country, we were beginning to hear not just of stories of medical distress but stories of lack of food, loss of jobs, inability to make ends meet. At this time, I joined a group of volunteers who were building a repository of fundraisers on a website called Mutual Aid India where fundraisers were collated that supported relief work, that helped marginalised communities survive the pandemic, that raised medical funds for people who couldn’t afford COVID related costs and much much more. One of the core ideas behind this and other actions of mutual aid is: solidarity, not charity. A line that has become more common over the past few years.
Though mutual aid and charity can feel similar to many, they are at their core different. Dean Spade, a US-based lawyer who wrote a book about mutual aid during this crisis (and the next) says, “Mutual Aid is work to meet each other’s survival needs that’s based in a shared understanding that the systems we live under aren’t gonna meet them and are actually causing the crises.” Mutual aid aims to meet people’s immediate needs, but while doing so it also build movements of care. Mutual aid in many ways recognises that our individual well-being is in fact intrinsically connected to our collective well-being. That Mutual aid is caring for those around us.
Thinking back to the crisis, that has still not fully passed from our country, I think about all the mutual aid we witnessed. At a time when we really struggled for hope, where despair and distress were all around us, mutual aid paved a way for us into the future. In many ways, the acts of mutual aid surrounding the brutal second wave in India, were acts of building a world we believed in – one where we cared for one other, irrespective of our backgrounds and our identities, one where support and time were given wilfully.
I think of my time volunteering at Mutual Aid India and found myself often asking the question: Is mutual aid indeed enough? And what can we learn from mutual aid that arises at times of conflict, crises and disasters for times when these are not as present?As always, we would love to hear from you and we hope you continue to stay safe in these turbulent times.