Bapu created civil defence force to tackle pandemic in 1921 | Ahmedabad News – Times of India

AHMEDABAD: In 1921, when Gujarat had barely emerged from a combined plague and pandemic onslaught, Mahatma Gandhi had set the foundation of the state’s first civil defence force, called the Gujarat Seva Samiti. This voluntary force was trained to raise funds, set up relief camps for those infected, anticipate resource crunch well in advance and direct attention of the government health and disaster relief machinery.
Training given to deal with influenza, plague and cholera, which were repeatedly claiming lives back then. These involved setting up makeshift camps from available resources, identifying key requirements much before an epidemic is to strike and then spread awareness on its prevention.

In it’s charter Bapu writes that law and order and maintaining calm were two objectives of the voluntary army and that serving people to help them navigate a pandemic or any disaster was the key motive.
Joining this voluntary army was not easy too. Those aspiring for the service were made to go through a six-month capsule course before being called a “volunteer”. There was a small fee for the training as well — it was 50 paise. Bapu wrote its charter and even its constitution and detailed its hierarchy.
In the February 1921 edition of the Navajivan, Bapu wrote that the key purpose of the civil defence voluntary army was to ensure calm, reduce panic and help people in their dire need and to work objectively and without partisanship while dealing with an adversity.
The volunteer army had volunteers, led by a ‘Nayak’. Several Nayaks within a region were commanded by a ‘Captain’.
The number of captains in each regional committee had to elect a general secretary for each of the regions in Gujarat.
City-based historian Rizwan Kadri says, “Bapu knew the distress that pandemic caused. He felt fear, confusion and law and order issues had to be tackled early to help people navigate the pandemic with calm.”
“The volunteers are required to meet every fortnight for learning to raise resources during disasters like a pandemic, comfort people and ensure complete law and order,” wrote Bapu.

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