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The dark times in India have bred despair and anger of unimaginable proportions. People have died well before their time leaving behind broken hearts and families. Underneath photos from hostel dorms, graduations, and family moments, the comments read:

‘Tu kahaan chala gaya yaar…baatein baki thi..’

‘Who will laugh with me Bittu…’

‘Papa I don’t think I can make it without you.’

There are no numbers to quantify this pain. Silent pots of ashes hanging from peepul trees. It leaves you less than before.

We hear, again and again, ‘our institutions have collapsed’‘our political system is rotten’‘nothing can be done for India’, and our best and brightest will leave India after the rapid polarization and, now, incompetence bordering on malfeasance.

All of this somehow presupposes that our strength was in our institutions. Maybe there was a collective longing that the society of India would become the modern system of India, capable of responding to any crisis and holding up something firm on which society could build and succeed. This longing may not have been entirely defeated but it has definitely taken a beating.

My hope and I am hopeful, comes from another wellspring entirely — a belief that the biggest strength of India is, and always was, the resilience and ingenuity of its people. This is the power we fail to see. It is not just the occasional election or flood story to be inspired by — it is a force that can constitute a system unto itself. This system is rapidly taking shape.

I base this on three recent trends —

  • The scale and depth of civil society response to recent social challenges
  • The recognition by business, particularly new business, that their social duty must be an integral part of their business
  • The growth in number and strength of independent new media

Each needs a more thorough examination but the response to the death and devastation of the second wave is proof enough of the first trend, if not the second as well. Every city has hundreds, if not thousands, of organic groups sharing leads to beds and medicines, community resources for food, livelihood support, and childcare, businesses have come up with creative responses using their resources, in just a week the Rural Response Tracker has counted and verified nearly 350 local initiatives responding to Covid needs in villages and small towns, and frontline health workers have shown themselves to be modern-day freedom fighters. No doubt compassion is the primary driver but the kind of ingenuity and scale we see is fuelled by technology, data, new ways of organizing and collaborating, but most importantly the changemaker mindset — it’s not enough to cheer from the sidelines.

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