Smita Tandi is a constable, but unlike any you may have come across. With 719,640 followers (and counting) on Facebook, few match the popularity and reach the Chhattisgarh policewoman has on the social media platform. What’s more, Tandi has gained her followers in barely 20 months of setting up her account.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s official Facebook page has more than 1 million ‘likes’, but that is a different parameter.
There is no PR machinery at work or paid followers in play on her account, according to Tandi, 24, who joined the police in January 2011. She believes the people’s connect she enjoys is due to the content of her posts — bringing the plight of the poor to light and urging people to help.
A personal tragedy and her desire to help others led Tandi to open her Facebook account in March 2015. “When I was undergoing police training in 2013, my father, Shiv Kumar Tandi, fell ill and I did not have enough money for his treatment. He too was a constable, but was given compulsory retirement in 2007 after an accident. Eventually, he died in a private hospital. Then, I thought that thousands of people die because of lack of money and decided to help,” Tandi told HT.
Tandi and her friends started a group in 2014 to help the poor. “We used to collect money for them. Many did not know of government initiatives and we would step in,” she said. “I decided to take the cause to Facebook. Initially, people did not respond to my posts, but in a month started donating money. I believe people accepted I was not ‘fake’ and trusted me.”
So, what makes her posts different from others and why her calls for crowdfunding work? “When I come to know about the problem of a poor person in Bhilai, Raipur or nearby, I visit the person when possible, check the facts and only then post about it on Facebook,” said Tandi, who lives in a rented house in Durg with her family. “Till now, I have helped about 25 deprived people pay their hospital bills. I never count how many people I help by raising money through Facebook, but it must be in hundreds.”
Autorickshaw driver Dinesh Pratap Singh, a Bhilai resident, is among those whose lives have been touched by Tandi’s social media initiative. “My 13 year-old daughter was suffering from cancer, but doctors in Bhilai were not able to diagnose it. I went to Raipur and admitted her to a private hospital. I came to know of Smita Tandi. She came to my house and raised money for me through Facebook. I managed to take my daughter to Delhi. Her condition is better now,” he said.
Tandi’s formidable Facebook presence caught the eye of senior police officers in Chhattisgarh and she got her present posting: the social media complaint cell of Bhilai women’s helpline.
Amresh Mishra, superintendent of police, Durg, said, “She is very tech-savvy and highly motivated. We assigned her a job suitable for her skills. We need more constables like her in our department. I don’t know about her followers on Facebook, but I am aware she is very active on the social sites.”
Tandi, who plays volleyball for the state team, said many people from across the country approach her to help through Facebook posts. “I investigate the information and post if they are genuine.”