Carving a niche for themselves

Carving a niche for themselves

Carving a niche for themselves

Home Guards in Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu have taken up  a unique venture to carve out a niche for themselves. Besides launching initiatives like planting saplings and holding blood donation camps, they have started many projects which not many of their ilk have attempted so far.

Going beyond their usual voluntary services, a  320-member Home Guard contingent, including 50 women, is engaged in creating awareness on the importance on organ donation, fighting man-animal conflict and helping the authorities at Kasi temple in Uttar Pradesh by sending coconut shells for the cremating the dead.

Recently, over 100 home guards in Coimbatore helped a hospital to get an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for popularising the cause of organ donation by enrolling 13,206 donors in just eight hours.  They also pledged their organs on the occasion. To create an awareness on the importance of eye donation among the people, the home guards have also  pledged their eyes.

“We were doing our usual work till a few years ago. However, all of us thought that we should do something different to the people, which should help them,” says Balaji Raju, Area Commander, Coimbatore district Home Guards.

Accordingly they started “rice bucket challenge” two years back, a unique programme with each home  guard providing one kg of rice to one family living on the street and daily wage workers.

After the “rice bucket challenge”, the district Home Guards have now taken up another initiative to provide clothes to the downtrodden in society.  The condition of children and men was pathetic as many had only two pairs of clothes, according to Balaji. The plight of those living in far-flung areas inside Thengumarada Forest, Kallampalayam, Melur and Keelur was horrible and many women were wearing torn clothes to cover their bodies. Called “adai kodai (donate clothes)”, sarees, dhothis and kids wear, both new and used, were donated to the poor in those areas.

As Coimbatore and its neighbouring districts are surrounded by forest area, animals like elephants and leopards enter human habitat frequently. This was a great concern for the district authorities as many people have lost their lives in  the man-animal conflict in the last one decade.

In a bid to help  forest officials, home guards chipped in to help the authorities. “Following our request, the forest authorities conducted a training programme in Annamalai Tiger Reserve, which was mainly focused on animals in hilly areas and preventive measures to keep them inside the forest,” K Sidharthan, a home guard, said.

He said the man-animal conflict programme is focused on Pollachi, Thudiyalur and Mettupalayam areas. “Each unit is headed by a company commander,” he said.

The comprehensive training covered the safety measures needed to prevent animal attacks besides stocking rice and salt at PDS shops in a manner that does not attract elephants and other animals to human habitats,” Sidharthan said. “We were also trained on light and sound alert systems and SMS introduced by the forest department".

Under the SMS programme, a message on the movement of animals is sent to the nearest forest department outpost. The Home Guards and forest officials will alert people through public address system.

Deputy area commander Vidhyashree Dharmaraj said that her unit has launched a novel programme called “Kasi Pasumai Yatra”. She said in Kasi trees are cut for burning  bodies. “We thought of a remedy to this and our cadres started collecting coconut shells, which can be used as alternative for wood to burn bodies,” she said. “We send the shells regularly to Kasi and an NGO helps us in this regard,” she said.

Vidhyashree said on some occasions,  home  guards  also help the local police in nabbing criminals. “Last month, our cadres Shanmuga Sundaram and Satish were on night duty when they noticed two people moving around suspiciously in the wee hours,” Vidhyashree said. On seeing the home guards, the two attempted to flee. After a long chase, the home guards caught the hardcore criminals with guns and handed them over to the Mettupalayam police.

Another Home Guard company commander Jaikumar said his cadres along with college students travelled to the flood-hit areas with relief materials. A group of home guards went to Chennai and Cuddalore district, which were devastated by December 2015 flood, and supplied food and helped in rescue and relief  works. 

In another attempt to enter into the Guinness Book, the Home Guards cleaned Coimbatore city recently in association with the municipal corporation under Swachh Bharat Mission. The unique  work included removing nails from  trees  and illegal hoardings. With an aim to stress on the importance of girl child, home guards were asked to take selfies with their daughters and post them on FaceBook.

Recognising their efforts, the Tamil Nadu police have provided a distinct white uniform to the Home Guards , which is similar to the ones used by traffic cops in Coimbatore. “Like traffic police, our cadres could also be identified during nights, which is not possible in the usual khakhi uniforms,” Balaji Raju said.

Interestingly, women cadres are also involved in activities such as cleaning local hospitals, providing temple security and extend escort to VIPs. 

Kalpana, who is in catering business, said: "I am proud to be a part of the Home Guards team. Though I have lots of commitments at home, I do devote some time to public service.”