In the last few months, Dosapati Ramu, by his own estimates, has spent approximately Rs 52 lakh from his own pocket. The forty-three-year-old HR manager from Hyderabad withdrew a portion of his Provident Fund, swiped his credit card, and used some of the proceeds from the sale of his land in Nalagonda. He even had to give up his dream of moving into a bigger apartment with his wife and two sons. All of this was worth it, he says, as his 24*7 ‘Rice ATM’, set up for the needy during lockdown months, has completed 250 days on December 19.
For Ramu, giving back to the society also means fulfilling a vow he made in 2006. He sustained a head injury in a bike accident, five months before the birth of first child. Ramu wished for another chance at life and vowed to spend 70 percent of his salary on helping the poor. After making a full recovery, he started involving himself in different awareness campaigns to promote the use of helmets/seat belts. The campaigns slowly spread to awareness on blood donation, the need for an increased number of CCTV cameras, reducing power consumption at home, stopping the use of single-use plastic, etc. In the first few weeks of lockdown, inspired by television reality show Bigg Boss, he challenged people to stay indoors for 21 days.
Ramu got the idea to set up a Rice ATM after a chance encounter with the wife of a watchman.
It was his son’s birthday, however, that led to the creation of a ‘Rice ATM’. Ramu was waiting outside a chicken shop that day when he saw the wife of a watchman from a nearby building buy chicken for Rs 2,000. Upon enquiring, he found out that she and her daughter-in-law were serving food to migrant workers from Odisha who could not afford a meal. “Laxmamma was earning only Rs 6,000 and she was willing to spend Rs 2,000 that day. I draw a good salary, my family is in comfort, and I realized there is nothing that stops me from helping those in need,” Ramu told indianexpress.com.
He tied-up with the nearby grocery shop and, with the help of the watchman at his apartment, set-up a 24×7 Rice ATM. “Initially it was only about 193 people but soon the number of people approaching us started to rise. Apart from grocery, we needed medicine, milk, and vegetables. I was not able to meet the expenses even with my credit card. As I have been working in the same company for the last 16 years, I could manage to withdraw Rs 5 lakh from my provident fund then,” says Ramu, who credits his wife, a Math teacher in a private school, for all the support.
Ramu credits his wife for supporting his initiative.
By mid-June when most of the migrant workers began to return to their home states, Ramu says people who lost their livelihood during the lockdown, families who became victims to the virus, elderly, etc started approaching him. “We were not able to manage our finances. Slowly I had to use money from the sale of our land in Nalgonda that was meant for investment in a 3 bedroom flat in the neighboring building. It was a dream of my sons to move to a bigger flat. But seeing so many people outside our building and waiting for help, changed our mind,” says Ramu.
With October floods inundating most of the city’s low-lying areas, the worst areas affected nearby his home in LB Nagar. “On certain days after floods, we had 300 to 350 persons waiting for help at the Rice ATM.”
According to him, at least 25,000 people have benefitted so far from his initiative. “Every day I see the flat in our opposite building that we wanted to buy. But when I see so many people waiting at the Rice ATM, I don’t feel any loss. Some unknown force gets me going. But I must say without my wife’s support, nothing was possible,” he says.
Though life for most has returned to normalcy, Ramu says he does not want to stop his initiative. “I want to help people who are in genuine need. I am screening the beneficiaries and motivating them to find their way into securing a job. I won’t be able to do this forever, but those who are in need should not sleep on an empty stomach,” he says.