Policewoman Mahinur Khatun turns messiah for destitutes

"People were going door-to-door asking each other for potatoes or rice. In all my 12 years of patrolling, I had never seen things being so bad," said Khatun.

Kolkata: Police constable Mahinur Khatun, 37, from West Bengal’s East Burdwan district has been serving the society beyond her call of duty.

Growing up in Burdwan, Khatun has achieved a rare success. Most of her neighbours are daily wage labourers, rickshaw pullers, housemaids or street vendors. Khatun’s mother sold paper bags to shops and her father was a truck driver.

During the lockdown, when Khatun did her rounds to enforce the government’s stay-at-home rules and social distancing norms, she noticed the economic devastation in her neighbourhood.

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“People were going door-to-door asking each other for potatoes or rice. In all my 12 years of patrolling, I had never seen things being so bad. Until recently, they had jobs and incomes,” Khatun said. “It broke my heart. When everyone is poor in a neighbourhood, who will take care of whom?”

Khatun supports herself, her parents and her 19-year old son on a salary of Rs 40,000. She had been saving up for cardiac bypass surgery for her father, Masud Choudhury, 70. “In April, with things in Khagragarh were getting worse, I asked my father if we could use that money to help people. He agreed,” Khatun said.

Khatun distributed ration packages of oil, rice, flour, lentils, onions and potatoes, which she distributed with the help of her family, weekly or fortnightly.

By April 20, she had spent most of the Rs 2 lakh that she had saved up. Then word spread and others began to donate money and supplies. The crowdfunding platform Milaap got in touch, asking if they could help her launch a campaign on the site.

“When we heard about her father, we offered to help raise funds for his treatment. She, however, insisted that the collective need of these families was much bigger than her own,” says Mayukh Choudhury, CEO and co-founder of Milaap. “We plan to help her set up a campaign for her father at a later date, as and when she needs it. Meanwhile, the response to the campaign has been wonderful to see.”

By April 24, the ‘Support Mahinoor’ campaign had raised Rs 6 lakh. By the start of this month, Khatun has distributed over 10,000 packages. When Amphan hit on May 20, she began to hand out basic medical supplies too.

“We’ve been out of work for three months, and no one else stepped up to help,” says Ishrat Bibi, 35, a daily wage earner who lives with a family of seven. “We would have been left to die if not for Mahinur Didi.”

Remisha Bibi, 60, a housemaid, adds that Khatun’s door is always open and that alone is comforting. “If I am sick or I need help, I know I can go and ask her.”

“What will I take with me when I go? My treatment can wait. I’m happy the money was put to good use,” says Khatun’s father. She might launch another campaign on Milaap, for her dad. Meanwhile, she has started saving again.

In her neighbourhood, lines continue to form outside her door, but she doesn’t have enough funds to keep going. “Whatever I do now is out of my monthly salary,” says Khatun. “I’m running out of money, so I can only afford to buy rations for three or four families a week at the most, earlier I was able to help over 500 families a month,” she said. Most of her neighbours still have no work and no income.

Bhaskar Mukherjee, superintendent of police in East Burdwan praised her. “Her good work will surely be rewarded. We are always proud of her exemplary efforts.”

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