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India’s ‘oxygen man’ receives Covid-19 Hero award

Soumitra Mandal receives the Times Now’s Amazing Indians award for 2022 (Screenshot from the Awards Ceremony)

Amid the difficulties and tragedies, heroes appear like rubies in the mud.

Soumitra Mandal, 30, won the Times Now’s Amazing Indians award for 2022 in the category of "Covid-19 Heroes’ for his selfless services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This award honors the heroes who worked for society as a call of duty during COVID-19 by recognizing their contributions to society.

Mandal is a social activist with 12 years of experience from the Sunderbans in West Bengal state, eastern India. He cycles on the muddy roads and crosses the river to reach the COVID-19 patients in remote areas.

Mandal said that during the pandemic, he decided to support people by providing them with oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, medicines, and other items.

“I began arranging oxygen concentrators, cylinders, and medicines through non-governmental organizations to assist people in need," Mandal told The Better India.

There is just one hospital for all the nine islands in the Gosaba block in India and poor health infrastructure. The Sunderbans is the world's largest active delta, but communication and transportation are not good in this area.

Mandal said, "Being a passionate social activist since adulthood, I could not resist supporting my fellow citizens during the unprecedented pandemic situation in different islands of Gosaba." 

He added that he tried to reach their doorsteps with an oxygen concentrator, an oxygen cylinder, and medicines by overcoming the difficulties of transportation in Sundarban.

The local administration helped him with his travel expenses and several NGOs, including Mukti and Kisholoy Foundation, helped him with three oxygen concentrators.

The local authorities offered him the right to board boats freely for his services.

A district official remarked, "What he has been doing is remarkable. Everyone should give him all the help possible."

The local administration helped him, and NGOs provided support with medicines, but he refused to take monetary donations from anyone.

"That's where it all goes wrong," Mandal commented.

He is also suffering from diabetes. In June 2021, he was infected with COVID-19 and stopped his services for a few months for his recovery. 

"Being a diabetic, it was risky to get COVID, but it could not stop me, and as soon as I recovered, I restarted my work,” he said. 

During the third wave, Mandal continued helping to distribute oxygen and medicine to all the patients who called him via phone or Facebook.

He was known as “Raja” (king) and had helped over 100 COVID-19 patients since the pandemic outbreak.

He was a part-time teacher with a salary of Indian rupees 3000 (US$ 37.71) and provided free tuition to his students after graduation with Honors in Geography and a Bachelor of Education.

In 2019, he lost his job but continued with his free tuition.

He received a Certificate of Appreciation from the AALO trust, a Certificate of Appreciation from Malda College, West Bengal and recognition as a social activist from Vishwa Manavadhikar Parishad (World Human Rights Council) in India.

As an inspiration to get into social work, he recalled, "I was always in awe of my grandfather, who donated his land to build a school. My father, too, has a good heart and helps people in whatever way he can. I think it’s their influence that made me a social worker."

A social worker named Nayek in the area told telegraphindia that he was very grateful to Mandal.

"My wife got infected with COVID-19 and was released from a nursing home, but she needed oxygen at home. I called Mandal, and he took just two hours to reach our home with the oxygen concentrator. It is truly admirable," said Nayek.

After receiving a phone call, Mandal started his journey with an oxygen concentrator on the back of his bicycle for 15 km on the muddy roads. 

He crossed a river by boat and reached a village in Basanti.

After a two-hour journey, he could help an elderly woman with the oxygen concentrator.

He said, "I always consult the doctor over the phone before giving out the medicine to the patients. I only act as per the doctor’s advice."

Mandal won the Times Now’s Amazing Indians award for 2022 in the category of COVID-19 Heroes.

The Times Now’s Amazing Indians awards were chosen in the 12 categories of Animal Welfare, COVID-19 Heroes, Education, Environment, Food Management, and Nutrition, Healthcare & Medical Assistance, Pollution, Rural Development, Shelter Management, Slum Care, and Girl Child and Women’s Rights Empowerment.

The awards ceremony was held on September 9 in New Delhi.


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