Mom’s attendant Vidya Tai who looks after her through the day was leaving. She was explaining what medication has been given, and which has still to be given, to me, when I heard a commotion at the door. VidyaTai opened the door to find a group of 22 chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, pounding doors and ringing bells of those that still didn’t open. I was told they’d come “to collect donations to help build the Ram temple at Ayodhya to bring back Hindu pride.”
Some background is needed here. I have been jobless since May 2019. My mother’s been declared terminal in 2017 and has been bed ridden since. I also lost my dad in August 2020 to cancer. In short Lord Ram is not creating the best circumstances for me, and I spend a better part of every day worried about paying bills, keeping food on the table and such stuff. So I am not the best person and definitely not the best contexted one to come asking for donations from – for a shrine which is more about bigotry and politics than religion.
I found the motley group of oily, pot bellied men mildly irritating and was thinking of a polite way to say ‘no’, when the man masticating paan with some energy said, “Swechcha se jitna dena hai de dijiye (Give what you feel like giving voluntarily),” and helpfully prompted, “Rs 500-600-1,000.” That’s when I registered that none of the 22 were wearing masks. Not even on their chins. Poor Lord Ram! These guys were just increasing his work load of saving them all from Corona while they didn’t want to take care of even the basics of prevention.
Stepping back alarmed, I said I’m busy and began shutting the door. But VidyaTai was leaving and she opened the door a bit to slip out. The paan masticator felt this was his opportunity and shoved his hand in with a pamphlet and a sticker saying I could donate later. “Aajkal online bhi hota hai (You can pay online too),” he said trying to smile. I remember being mortified and worried, he may cough or sneeze and splutter the door or me with droplets of betel juice spittle!
The pamphlet has no charity commissioner registration details which are mandatory to ask donations even for local Ganesh mandals. I brought it to his attention from behind the safety of my safety door but he said, “Bhagwan Ram ka kaam hai. Dena hai toh do nahi toh rehane do (This is Lord Rama’s work. Give what you have to or don’t).”
VidyaTai was also not spared. “Maajhyakade paise naahit,” she said and took the lift down. I was getting worried since one of the shorter fellows in the crowd was writing down details of flat numbers of those who gave or did not.
I became worried whether my family and me would now be marked for being non-contributors to the Ayodhya temple, and was livid that these bigots had come to my door.
I called the housing society secretary to ask why the security had not stopped these guys from ramming their way into society despite their non-adherence to Covid-safety. The secretary said she didn’t want to be involved, and asked me to speak to the chairman Satish Singh (whose whole family was down with Corona only a few months ago).
“Why are you getting so excited? This is good work. And no one was being forced,” he said after hearing my rant.
“Will you let other organisations or causes come in and appeal for funds?”
“Like PETA, Helpage, organisations working for cancer or thalassemia patients.”
“Like that we can’t allow everyone. Please understand this was done as a part of friendship.”
When asked him why his personal friendship should end up making me or anyone (including the lone Christian and Muslim families) in the building unsafe and coerced into paying, he piped down.
“It was a mistake. I apologise. I should have thought this through. I felt it was voluntary and would not become an issue.”
“If it was voluntary why not just set up a box outside asking people to donate? Where was the need to get them to people’s doors to get them marked?” I asked and reminded him that such people have targeted marked homes in Mumbai when the city burned in the 1992-93 riots. “As a parent I feel this makes me feel unsafe,” I said.
Parallel to this conversation I had tweeted
@AnilDeshmukhNCP A group of @VHPDigital are at my door “asking” for donations to build the temple @ Ayodhya.
I find it problematic that they are carrying a register & writing down names/flat nos. of people like me who say no.
Why is @MumbaiPolice allowing this? pic.twitter.com/NYAseVBK91
— Yogesh Leela Pawar (@powerofyogesh) January 22, 2021
I had tagged the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, CM Uddhav Thackeray and the Mumbai Police on this issue, because I feel that given the socio-politically and socio-religiously polarised explosive environment we live in, this should not become the proverbial spark that sets off something undesirable.
I got a call from the police control about my tweet and they promised that the local police station Vanrai would be in touch with me on the issue… I’m awaiting that…
P.S: Just as the group of temple fund-raisers was leaving the building, the missus who was clueless about what was going on was returning from work. The group accosted and asked her also to contribute. “Mein unko poochey bagair kisiko paise nahi deti (I can’t give money to anyone without asking my husband),” she told them and came up to laugh and tell me about what she’d said.
I also joined in her laughter and drew her in a hug. “Atta girl! Dunno about Lord Rama but SitaJi will be very proud of you.”
*The author is a senior journalist. This post first appeared on his Facebook profile and is published here with his consent.