This rope and few volunteers are all that is standing between Covid-19 and thousands of villages like this in India today. Here is the grim story behind this picture clicked at the border of Lakhisarai, a district in Bihar in East India, with an estimated population of 10.01 lakh as per the 2011 Census.
We heard in news that migrant workers from North and North Eastern parts of India are being forced to flee to their villages amidst the Covid-19 situation. Kumar Neeraj, my friend from Bihar, has been working with a few volunteers to prevent the spread of the virus in his district for a while now. I could hear the horror that he is going through as he recounted stories of these workers coming home to families that are unaware of the gravity of the situation.
Today ,his face looked tired on my screen as he had just come back from a round of the village with his volunteers. He told me that most of these workers have come back from Indian states like Kerala and Maharashtra where cases of Covid-19 are aplenty. Most of them have travelled in crowded trains and buses , fully exposed and vulnerable to the virus while some of them walked for miles to reach their hometowns. Once they reach the villages, there is nothing stopping them from walking into their houses and open fields . Nobody is asking them to go to schools and centres where they can be quarantined . Nobody is talking about symptoms that some of these people have come back with. Nobody is talking about social distancing or the dangers of this virus being spread through contact.
Neeraj told me that he had reported few cases of people showing symptoms to the police who had to chase villagers being hidden in the open fields by their family members. They couldn't be caught and the police had to leave as they got a call about another perosn showing symptoms in another block. Mother-in-Laws are forced to shelter these young men even as they are denied shelter in their villages in fear of their daughter's future . But again, is it their fault that they are scared ? Is it their fault that they believe it's a city virus? There is little to no information reaching them, regarding self-quarantine measures. He told me that the kind of information reaching them had the children of his village running around banging plates saying these vibrations will kill the virus. And most of the women in here , have no chance of venturing out to get more information and have to believe what they are told is the truth.
The solution here is not as simple as delivering speeches and sending police to scared families. It's much more than that. Social distancing is not practical in a village where they have to come out to defecate , because even with all the promises and news about toilets being built, they have to go out and use shared toilets in these communities , especially women. Most of the villagers have livestock outside which have to be fed and fresh produce that need to be guarded. They don't have electricity or refrigerators to stock necessary food items which means they have to go outside to survive. So, social distancing isnt a privilege they can afford in their lives.
He further told me about the nurses among them, who work in community hospitals being called for duty, sometimes, without the provision of masks, gloves or sanitisers. I heard that even to test people, they have to go to the hospital in the capital city of Patna , about 4 hours away. They don't have sanitisers , masks or community radios . All they have are few volunteers who walk around and request people to understand , but what can they do with limited resources in their hand?
So they block all entry and exit points to the village with a rope or pole and stay vigilant. Because apparently, they are just Biharis, migrant workers. Their lives don't matter enough for this country to care.
This is not just a rant about an upcoming devestation. It is a desperate call for solutions and measures. These people want help. They want ham radio services and community awareness programmes to reach every family in the village, emergency supplies to stock schools that can act as quarantine centres for migrant workers who are returning home, more police officials to identify people who have symptoms , more testing centres to test these people, more toilets and measures to make social distancing a practical affair, more visibility so that they are not forgotten.
These people, Biharis , Bengalis and all the other names you call them by, became the butt of jokes in our movies and web series, they became suspects and prime accused eveey other time a crime was reported, they were laughed at for their accent and pan-stained teeth and thrashed for applause, even as they continued building our houses and fixing our potholes.
And now we have probably given them a virus and send them home. Is it fair that we forget about them now ?
This, I believe, is the story of more than just one village. As we sit in the comfort of our houses, lets find solutions to help people like Neeraj in their efforts. Please DM me or contact his organisation @Khetee (9611578778) to help Lakhisarai overcome this pandemic.
I wrote this article to throw light on this tragedy and to rope in help for villages like this . Journalists and organisations have been contacting us to know more details and to offer connections , solutions and help since then. The situation is still grim as we want all the help that can be gathered not just for this village, but for other villages with a returning migrantworker population as well. So, feel free to connect us with more solutions and people who can help villages like this . And visit www.khetee.org to help the people of Lakhisarai overcome Covid-19.