Indians are increasingly finding innovative social uses of WhatsApp — from using it to circulate a local news bulletin in Jammu and Kashmir to using it to raise an alarm over social evils like child marriage.
A group of people in Assam are using WhatsApp’s wide reach (it has over 200 million users in India) to touch people’s lives. Be it finding blood donors in remote areas, helping cancer patients with money (or motivation), or helping aspiring writers become published authors, the group has been helping people by mobilising support through WhatsApp.
The group — Xudin Sambhawana Axom-Be Positive — was started on June 1, 2015, by Pranab Kumar Barman, a Guwahati-based Assamese poet. Xudin Sambhawana Axom, which means “Hope for a better Assam,” has about 160 members.
The group — Xudin Sambhawana Axom-Be Positive, meaning “Hope for a better Assam” — was started on June 1, 2015, by Pranab Kumar Barman, a Guwahati-based Assamese poet. It has about 160 members
Santanu Mahanta, an Assamese journalist and one of the group admins, says a large part of their work is helping find blood donors for medical emergencies. The group has catalysed blood donation more than 50 times, he said, adding they’ve helped find blood donors not only in state capital Guwahati, but also in villages and towns like Sivasagar, Sonapur, Hajo, Nalbari and Dibrugarh.
In life and in death
Hiranya Das, a resident of Sivasagar town, about 400km from Guwahati, is grateful to the group’s hustlers for helping her find a donor with the rare blood group O- for her mother in January this year. Das contacted one of the group admins who happens to be her friend, who in turn connected her with a volunteer, Lakhminandan Baruah. “Baruah was more than happy to help me. Finding a donor through the WhatsApp group was much faster and easier than having to go looking for one offline,” said Das.
Till now, the group has extended help to four cancer patients. Their help is not limited to the financial kind, they also provide emotional and psychological support for cancer patients
Nibedita Das, a social worker and one of the group admins, recalls their first good samaritan act — helping drum up financial support for a cancer patient. They learnt about the financial plight of a local poet, Sananta Tanti, who was suffering from blood cancer, and decided to help him. Within five days, the group had collected Rs 35,000 from 24 people. They visited his house in Guwahati and gave him the money. “Such was the joy on Tanti’s face that even the date of our visit is firmly etched in my memory. This is what urges us do our bit for the community, and the WhatsApp group is a convenient platform to coordinate such acts,” she said.
Till now, the group has extended help to four cancer patients (two from Guwahati, one from Nalbari and one from Jorhat district). Their help is not limited to the financial kind, they also provide emotional and psychological support for such patients.
Das recounted the case of a woman who was in the last stage of cancer. She said the woman, Beauty Barman, was added to the WhatsApp group and the members flooded her with positive messages, encouraged her to pursue her hobby of writing poetry and even organised a cultural function at her home.
Although her doctors in Mumbai had given her only four months to live, she lived for nine months. Das contended the positive mindset she developed thanks to the moral support she received must have had a role to play in this. “She once told us, ‘I do not fear death as I know you all will embrace me when death comes’,” Das said.
From writers to authors
The WhatsApp group, which includes creative people like writers, journalists and cartoonists, has also been helping talented people get their works published. Till date, they have helped four youngsters publish six books.
Mamoni Das, who has published two books with the encouragement of the group, credited Barman (the group owner and a writer) for her success. “My first book of poetry, Osanaki Axakhot Bonoriya Joon got published in 2016 by Shristi Publication. It did quite well in the Guwahati Book Fair last December. Barman inspired me to get my debut book published,” she said. Soon after, her second book, Naishabdot Tumar Khooj was published.
Another member, Joyjit Deka, used to post his poems in the group. Encouragement and guidance came pouring forth for him and this January, he got a collection of poems published.
Aware of their positive impact on society, the literary members of the group have started another WhatsApp group, Brahmaputra Adhyan Utsav, to discuss literature and encourage aspiring writers. Noted Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjee has also joined the group.
Another member, Joyjit Deka, used to post his poems in the group. Encouragement and guidance came pouring forth for him and this January, he got a collection of poems published
The group is making making an impact in other ways as well. With the help of its spirited members, Dr Chandan Madak, a cardiologist with Dispur Hospital, has been organising free medical camps in rural areas under his NGO, The Heart.
When Barman started Xudin Sambhawana Axom in 2015, little did he know that it would become an important platform for people in the state to connect and evolve into a movement that would churn out many a heartwarming story.
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Lead visual: Nikhil Raj Photographs: 101Reporters Photos Updated at 1.22pm on May 15, 2017, to add the Tech Meets Bharat banner.