Former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was always known to be a tweet away to help a large diaspora of Indians through Twitter.
But without a ministerial position, Charubala Barik—fondly called Deepa, a villager from Temri in Odisha—has taken Twitter by storm, turning it into a helpline for the poor.
The 25-year-old postgraduate student is no less than a celebrity who has helped thousands of people solve their grievances, some of which were long pending for years.
From elderly persons awaiting their pensions to people who have lost homes in the cyclone, or migrants stuck in another state, Deepa has helped them all.
“Very few people in my village have cell phones, and belong to a lower-middle-class family, I have experienced and witnessed the sufferings of the poor,” she tells The Better India.
Her Twitter handle @CharubalaB has 6338 followers to date.
A Voice For The Poor
The daughter of a farmer and an Anganwadi worker, Deepa was never tech-savvy or active on social media. In 2019, she received an android phone as a birthday gift from her parents. And soon, a local social activist Dibas Kumar Sahu introduced her to the Twitter app and other social media platforms.
“He explained that I could use Twitter to tag and connect with the senior government officials and seek help from the concerned department,” Deepa says.
She also learned about the state government’s 5T scheme. “The governance model initiated by the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik includes transparency, teamwork, technology and timeliness to improve the governance,” she says.
Another initiative that is linked to the 5T model is the My Government initiative. She says it involves a process where the citizens are randomly chosen to seek feedback about the service received from the officials working at the various departments. “The model puts the weakest and poorest person in the society at power to directly share feedback and take up their grievances with the higher-ups,” she says.
Deepa used these facilities to benefit a large number of people. “I always wanted to help people around me, and the technology synced with social media helped me use it for public services,” she says.
Sharing her first success story from 2019, she says, “Cyclone Fani caused massive destruction in the neighbouring village. One Soukilal and his wife suffered severe losses. The couple was rendered homeless after the calamity. When I learned about it, I tweeted the issue and tagged the Chief Minister, District Collector, 5T [authorities] and the social media grievance cell.”
Within 48 hours, the Block Development Officer visited the village, conducted a survey and by the end of the week, Soukilal received Rs 98,000 for reconstructing his damaged house.
The impact on the life of Soukilal lifted her spirits, and since then, there has been no turning back.
Around 100 Odia migrant workers of different districts are trapped & tortured in a brick kiln at Srinivasa Mangapuram Tirumala Rd, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh 517505.I urge @APPOLICE100 to take prompt action for their rescue @tirupatipolice @CMO_Odisha @ThirumalaNaik4 @MoSarkar5T pic.twitter.com/SbTUeySpDO
— DEEPA BARIK (@CharubalaB) April 1, 2022
Later, she helped the elderly become eligible for pensions and assisted widows in getting monetary aid from the State Government’s Ashirvad Yojana. She has also helped the disabled receive entitled benefits under different schemes.
Narrating another incident, Deepa says, “Some of the farmers in Bilaspur village were unable to irrigate their farms as the check dam needed repairs. When I visited the location, I found the doors to be broken, which were needed to hold the water. The locals narrated that they made multiple attempts to grab the attention of the concerned officials, but they failed to give cognisance to address the farmer’s issue.”
However, one tweet from Deepa about the issue by tagging the officials and four days later, the villagers saw the check dam was fixed.
Deepa claims to have helped 5,000 people in and around her district from her social media platform.
Laxman Lohar, a resident of Hazarika, says, “In October 2021, about 23 migrant labourers, including me, had travelled to Pedapalli in Telangana. We were working in a brick kiln where the owner had taken all of our money and exploited us. The owner made us toil during odd hours. He did not even give us food and water on time.”
Weeks after they joined the work, their living conditions became unbearable. “The owner started beating us mercilessly and treating us inhumanely. It came to a point where I felt like giving up on life. Fed up with the atrocities, I climbed up to a transformer to end my life and suffered a severe electric shock. I lost my right arm in the incident,” he recalls.
That’s when one of the migrants learned about Deepa and contacted her for help. “Deepa immediately put out a tweet informing Telangana police, and within days, all the migrants were rescued. So far, she has helped about 1,000 labourers from her state stranded in different parts of the country. Her commendable work has earned her the title of the ‘Twitter queen’ in the village,” he adds.
Deepa does not always wait for people to approach her. “I visit villages, meet people and try to understand their problems. Besides, every morning I refer to local daily newspapers to know the issue plaguing the region. I verify the credibility of the issues and take it to the concerned officials via Twitter to grab their attention,” she adds.
She adds, “Many so-called ‘agents’ promise to help the poor villagers in exchange for a fee. The middlemen demand heavy sums and take months to finish a job. At times the issue remains unresolved. A tweet eliminates them entirely and directly connects the petitioner with the government official.”
During the initial days, the lower rank officials were often irked about raising issues with the higher-ups. “But as we worked together, they realised that it was for the benefit of the large populace and not to stir trouble for them. They cooperate with me now,” Deepa adds.
Deepa is pursuing her Master’s in Science and aims to become a professor. “Helping people and bringing a smile to their faces gives me immense satisfaction. I feel grateful that people appreciate my gesture towards them and will continue to help more,” she says.
Edited by Yoshita Rao