"When I handed over the cheque to TS Somnath's family, I felt a bit relieved; but I knew that what Somnath did for our country can never be repaid. That does not, however, mean we should stop doing our bit. Jai Hind!"
In an endeavour that was hearteningly reminiscent of his fervid, warrior-like Aslam and Ashfaqullah Khan in Rang De Basanti, wherein he fights unto death to bring justice to his martyred soldier friend, actor-turned-entrepreneur Kunal Kapoor sprung into action as the news broke out of 18 soldiers laying down their lives for the country in the insurgency at Uri. Kunal, through his clout and his crowdfunding venture — one of Asia's most visited — Ketto, decided to honour the martyrs and financially support their distraught families during this immensely difficult time, and successfully raised over Rs 44 lakh through a special platform — 'Support Soldiers.'
Kunal's social media platforms often reflect his involvement in some of the socially inclined fundraisers running on Ketto. And right after the Uri attacks in September last year, Ketto was approached by scores of individuals and corporates, as they wanted to show their support for the families of the martyrs and were hoping that Ketto would lead the charge. Kunal, without giving it a second thought, got in touch with the families of the soldiers and designed a dedicated website for the campaign under the domain supportsoldiers.ketto.org.
“After the Uri attacks, we decided to take charge of the situation and use every resource available to help the soldiers, and proactively started collecting money in the name of each of the 18 soldiers. I am trying to build a strong platform between the countrymen and the soldiers, to let people help the martyr in the best way possible.”
And fortunately, the entities that urged Ketto to take this up weren't just offering lip service, as many of them came forth to spearhead fundraisers, and took responsibility for seeing the campaigns through.
The platform allows you to show support by adopting a martyr and starting a fundraiser for them, to contribute to any of the fundraisers, or to simply get the word out.
Challenges encountered and countered
With the aim of having the money reach the martyrs' families immediately and effectively, each individual campaign for each soldier is designed keeping in mind the families' distinct requirements. To ensure the complete efficacy of this campaign, the funds were transferred to their personal bank accounts. As it so happens, gathering these details proved to be one of their biggest challenges.
“We wanted to transfer the funds directly into their accounts, without any second party involvement. This was also a common request we received from all our campaigners, who insisted on knowing that the funds were being sent to their rightful owners. Our Ketto team worked day and night for getting the bank details of all the soldiers, and through our resources, we finally had the much-needed info that we were looking for,” he says.
Viral for a cause
To raise awareness about the campaign, the Ketto team initiated meaningful discourse around the subject through blogs, social media posts, as well as the media and journalist community. And given how strongly Kunal feels about this cause himself, he is personally overseeing the proceedings of the campaign. “Sharing among my fans and the world is another task that I am completely focusing on. On top of that, I am personally interacting with the families of the martyred soldiers in the best way possible. For instance, a month back, I visited martyred sepoy TS Somnath's family and handed to them a cheque of over Rs 1.6 lakh,” he explains.
The campaigners have also pushed their fundraisers through their own social media accounts. “Social media was flooded with reports of these cowardly attacks, and people could instantly relate to it. Ketto’s fundraisers were forwarded widely across Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Although the loss was irreparable, this put power in the hands of the people to make a change,” he explains. Every new campaign and its successful execution inspired hosts of others to follow suit and start campaigns of their own.
"During this time, one of most the significant partners — Shaadi.com — signed on. They helped raise nearly Rs 19 lakh as part of their CSR activity and employees’ contribution, followed by Videocon, RBL Bank, and so on,” says Kunal.
Nearly 30 fundraisers were thus initiated, raising Rs 44 lakh altogether, which was equally distributed amongst all the families and transferred directly to their bank accounts.
While the whole journey was filled with rewarding experiences, one moment, in particular, stuck with Kunal.
“When I handed over the cheque to TS Somnath's family, I felt a bit relieved; but I knew that what Somnath did for our country can never be repaid. That does not, however, mean we should stop doing our bit. Jai Hind!”
Even as most of the campaigns concluded last month, Kunal plans to keep this initiative alive and active through the year, especially in the wake of the latest tragedy in Kashmir, on January 25, 2017, where 15 soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in two different avalanches that hit the Gurez sector.
"We want to keep the campaign running, especially when we’re hit by tragic and unfortunate news of another brave soldier losing his life while protecting the country at the border,” says Kunal.
Fresh campaigns have been started in order to support their families as well, on the tab called 'Fallen Soldiers'.
“These brave soldiers joined the army and pledged their lives for the safety of the country, a pledge they fulfilled. They were the sole breadwinners for their distraught family in most cases. This just goes to show how simple yet effective crowdfunding is to help our soldiers,” says Kunal, in conclusion.