Saju Talukdar, 43, is a car driver who lives in small town Birpara of West Bengal’s Alipurduar district. For the past 10 years, he has been collecting used clothes from people and distributing them among the needy. Last year, his son and some friends urged him to join Facebook to garner support online for his philanthropic initiative. He has named his initiative Bir Birsa Munda Cloth Bank after tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda.
Last September, Talukdar bought a smartphone, opened an FB account and started posting photographs of his work on his Timeline. Soon, word spread on the social media platform and people started contacting him to join his cause. He can’t thank FB enough for making his work much easier and helping him expand the drive.
“Earlier, I would an entire day going from door to door… explaining the initiative to people. Now, people reach out to me on Facebook and I either collect the clothes or they send them to me” — Saju Talukdar, founder of Bir Birsa Munda Cloth Bank
“Earlier, I would an entire day going from door to door in Birpara, neighbouring New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri and other places and explaining the initiative to convince people to give away their spare or used clothes. Now, people reach out to me on Facebook and I either collect the clothes or they send them to me,” says Talukdar.
Talukdar distributes the clothes mostly among workers in tea gardens in Bangapani, Dimdima, Chamarchi and Redbank areas of North Bengal. The first two tea estates, in Jalpaiguri district, have been lying abandoned for years now. The areas in and around the tea gardens are home to more than 4,000 people. Every week, he donates about 300 hundred items of clothing in these areas. “It gives me immense pleasure when I see the smile on the poor workers’ faces,” he says.
When he started his FB account, little did he know that his posts would gain such traction. “Many people also call me, offering to help. They ask me what I do with all the clothes I collect. Some of them even accompany me to these tea gardens,” he says.
Rajesh Singh, a 36-year-old businessman from Birpara, is one of the many who learnt about Talukdar’s initiative through FB. He first came across Talukdar’s posts six months ago and asked his wife to set aside unused clothes from the household to give to Talukdar. The couple then accompanied him to the tea gardens to distribute the clothes. He also spread word about the initiative among his friends and acquaintances.
Pinaki Ranjan Paul, from New Jalpaiguri, learnt about Talukdar’s work when the latter posted photographs of his work on FB. Paul donated clothes to Talukdar and has been in touch with him since
Pinaki Ranjan Paul, a resident of New Jalpaiguri, too learnt about Talukdar’s work when the latter came to his district on his motorcycle to collect clothes and posted photographs on FB. Paul donated clothes to Talukdar and has been in touch with him since.
“Social media plays a big role because everybody has something to give,” said Meenakshi Gupta, one of the founders of Goonj, an NGO dedicated to collecting and distributing used clothes since 1999. She said that for non-profit organisations with limited means, social media plays a big role in garnering community support.
Talukdar, who is married and has two children, earns a modest Rs 5,000-Rs 7,000 per month by driving his car. No matter how busy or tired he is, he ensures he makes time to carry out his good work.
He also helps people who need medical attention — he helps them get hospitalised and visits ill people to boost their morale
He also helps people who need medical attention — he helps them get hospitalised and visits ill people to boost their morale. He also urges people of his town to donate two rotis every day for them — he asked them to drop them off at a nearby shop from where he collects them and distributes them among people who are ill and can’t fend for themselves. He posts all his activities on his Facebook wall, hoping to gain more helping hands for his selfless drive.
Talukdar’s efforts have earned him appreciation from the block development officer of Madarihaat tehsil, where two of the tea estates he regularly visits are, and from Karimul Haque, a Padma Shri awardee from North Bengal.
The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Debjoy Dutta is a Kolkata-based freelance writer and Samantha Machado is a Manipal, Karnataka-based freelance writer. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.