While India continues to grapple with the monstrous second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, 26-year-old Arshi Ansari has emerged as a beacon of hope. She has earned the title of ‘Cylinder Bitiya’ for helping those in need of oxygen cylinders in her hometown of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
When Ansari’s father had tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, she approached the city magistrate for an oxygen cylinder but was told that there was no such provision for patients in home isolation. Instead, the official recommended finding a hospital for her father. After being met with the poor conditions of dilapidated government hospitals and oxygen shortage across healthcare centers, she had no choice but to make her own arrangements, reported the media.
After repeated pleas, Ansari received one cylinder from the city magistrate and 10 more from a group of volunteers who had noted her requests on social media. However, after the first two weeks of his illness, her father no longer required oxygen. She then began receiving requests from others in the region who needed them.
Taking them on her two-wheeler, Ansari, who runs a computer coaching center for children, would deliver these cylinders to people desperately in need around Shahjahanpur, Hardoi which is 67 km away, and even as far as other states such as Uttarakhand. She refuses to charge for the service and also gets empty cylinders filled on request. “No one hoards a cylinder. After they have no use of it, they refill it and pass it on to others in need,” she told a news publication.
Ansari started distributing these oxygen cylinders during the holy month of Ramzan while she was fasting. However, she states that she never felt any discomfort, saying, “It is my belief that I got success in my work because it was Ramzan and I had Allah’s blessings.”
It has not been smooth sailing for Ansari who has been cat-called and harassed on the internet but she perseveres and encourages others to spend more time helping other people especially when the situation is severe. Her efforts have been lauded by local residents for her timely service and for putting her own health at risk during the pandemic only to help others in need.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)