By Biswajeet Banerjee/Lucknow, India
It was the month of May. The Covid -19 pandemic was at its peak. The news of deaths, mourning, and desperation was pouring in from every corner of Lucknow, the state capital of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It was one of the worst affected states of India where bodies were piling up in cremation grounds, hospitals had put up no vacancy boards and people were dying in the cars, at home without treatment.
This was the time when we in The Pioneer lost our Political Editor and two other staff members – one in accounts and the other in display advertising departments - to Corona.
Caution was the buzzword. In one of our editorial zoom meetings, I asked our Chief Photographer Eric Cyril Thompson and other photographers to take precautions and use better quality masks. That day we had a detailed discussion as to how the photographers are exposed to Corona.
Same-day in the evening, Manoj Bhadra, the state head of UNI, a prominent Indian news agency, informed us that his photographer and a reporter had tested Covid-19 positive.
In that dark scenario, a mail from Peace Journalism Professor Steve Youngblood at Park University in Missouri and Susan Kreifels, Media Program Manager at the East-West Center, came as a ray of hope. They were leading a cross-border media program that I had been invited to join. Steve offered to help journalists by donating PPE and he asked whether I would be able to distribute it among journalists. Four other colleagues in India and Pakistan who were in the same cross-border program also distributed PPE to journalists in a total of five cities.
Biswajeet Banerjee distributes donated PPE to journalists in Lucknow, India.
This was the God-sent help. I answered in the affirmative.
I called up Eric and Manoj and told them about the development.
Within 20-25 days I received a big box containing N 95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and wipes. Now, the challenge was how to distribute it. Eric suggested why not involve the Uttar Pradesh Photojournalist Association. This was a good idea. I also decided to contact journalists of electronic media through their association.
I was told the offices of both the associations were closed because of the pandemic and the members could be found in Hazratganj, a centrally located marketplace in the city. I called Pradeep Kumaun, the President of the Photo-journalists association, and fixed up the appointment.
The next day, I put the box in the boot of my car and went to the UNI office. I gave some masks and gloves to Manoj, the state head. I gave another box to members of electronic media and then drove to Hazratganj, where Pradeep was waiting for me. I handed over the masks and gloves to Pradeep, who later distributed this among the photojournalists.
One of the photographers came to me, folded his hands in Namaste, and said: “This N 95 mask was much needed now. Thank you very much.” I know this thank you is not for me but for Steve and Susan for extending help to journalists.