On December 15, Karan Seth’s life transformed after he saw a DTC bus go up in flames less than 80 meters from his home at New Friends Colony. Minutes before, Seth was all set to carry two bottles of mulled wine to attend a friend’s pre-Christmas potluck party in Noida, and driving there in his Ford Figo Aspire Titanium Plus, a recent purchase for which he paid Rs 10.5 lakh in one shot.
The burning bus was part of the violence that broke out at Jamia Millia Islamia, where the students were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. For this 33-year-old criminal lawyer, accustomed to watching news reports of violence only on TV and social media, seeing that bus was shocking.
“My family and I cancelled our respective plans, and watched the news on TV to stay informed about the situation outside. However, tear gas was released close to our residence and it went in our mouth and eyes. From that time, I wanted to contribute in helping the country remain secular. In a few days, I joined the group, Lawyers for Detainees. We visited police stations and made protestors aware of their rights to prevent any untoward action taken against them,” Seth recalled.
Alongside, he cleared medico-legal cases in hospitals so that the injured could get quick treatment.
“Many were brought to the Lok Nayak Hospital. I saw a guy with a sword injury. Another one had been shot on the head, and died in front of me. Witnessing all of this was horrifying. Being a South Delhi boy, I have lived in my own bubble,” recalled Seth, and added that prior to December 15, he did not follow politics religiously. “I just wanted to party, enjoy my single malts, cigarettes, bespoke shoes, and custom-made suits, and mostly led a carefree, stereotypical city life. I used to flunk in college, but later ended up clearing all the semesters.”
Of, by and for the law
Through Lawyers for Detainees, founded by Mishika Singh, Seth met Tanvi Sharma, Fahad Khalid and Jincy Mathew and formed the Volunteers Collective – a group that helps doctors and frontline workers procure masks and other equipment. Seth attributes Tanvi Sharma and Mishika Singh in inspiring him to help people.Till now, the Volunteers Collective has donated over 30,000 masks, 100 PPE kits, 1,000 N95 masks, and many hand sanitisers and gloves. They also supply rations to dhabas across Delhi, feed the daily wage labourers, migrant labourers and roadside stall owners, and recently started a helpline to report domestic violence (9810941900 & 9717031377).
On April 20, at 10:00am, I joined Seth during one of his rounds to distribute essentials in association with the Volunteers Collective. We headed in his Ford to St. Stephens Hospital in Tis Hazari, where he had to donate PPEs and masks.During our ride, the topic veered towards the acute shortage of face masks. But Seth revealed that his collective has been successful in arranging for the masks despite the shortage. “We had open requests posted on social media and managed to reach out to many. So, I’m certain that if the government has the political will to help people, they can arrange these masks too.”
In about 10-12 minutes, we reached the hospital. The doctors looked visibly happy to see him and received the relief packages. “The citizens are safe because of the doctors and their staff. I find things like thali bajao, diya jalao…as empty gestures. In my opinion, the government should help more.” Seth and his team also did relief work in areas affected by the Delhi riots, especially to people at Al-Hind Hospital, Mustafabad. Furthermore the collective has also started pro bono sessions on mental health.
Talking about mental health, Seth too had to take a break from relief work. “I couldn’t step out of my house for three days after Sanjeev Das passed away,” he said. A rickshaw puller, Das had mouth cancer and was discharged from AIIMS as a non-virus case, and Seth used to arrange medicines for him. “I questioned my methods of help. Am I doing enough? Why couldn’t I save him? I had to switch off my phone for three days,” said Seth, who continued to tell me how his family wants to see him more at home during these turbulent times. But Seth was too rattled to do nothing. “I lost faith in the government after how the protests were handled. I wanted to do something more than just take out my frustration on social media.”
As we crossed the old quarters of Delhi, the empty streets appeared straight out of a dystopian film. The majestic Lal Quila, a picture postcard.We reached Bal Bhavan, Mandi House, to find the queue waiting to collect afternoon meals. We made a stop here and then proceeded. Seth explained how he is trying to balance between his lifestyle and his newly-accepted responsibilities.
“Every year, I travel to various countries. This year’s plan was to do a coast-to-coast drive in America, which has got cancelled. My friends think that I am above all this, but I know I can’t completely let go of my way of living. However, I will cut down on excess for sure.” His friends, meanwhile, also donate funds towards rations. "Do you feel you are making a positive impact on people’s lives," I asked him as he proceeded to check on the food supplies at Jantar Mantar area next. “I am still trying, and I realise that it has to be a constant process,” he replied.