The rope between Covid-19 and hundreds of villages

Aparna Gopan
Posted March 26, 2020 from India
A bunch of volunteers at the border of Lakhisarai guarding it with a pole

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. 

 

 

This story was submitted in response to Dispatches from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Comments 20

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nadege
Mar 26
Mar 26

I'm from Cameroon came to India for some projects but right now I'm stucked , wish we could meet so we give each other a helping hand, good job sister keep it up, this too shall pass, we are in it together

Aparna Gopan
Mar 26
Mar 26

Hey. I wish we could meet too. Where in India are you stuck at ? Do let me know if you want any urgent help. Shall try to help on anyways I can.

Regards

nadege
Mar 26
Mar 26

I was in Picasso hotel in Delhi but was asked to leave because I'm a foreigner, so right now I'm at a guest house in gurgaon, for now it's feeding I got problems with, but aside that all is getting find, I try not to get depressed with the current situation.

Dawn Arteaga
Mar 26
Mar 26

stay safe Nadege - and stay strong. Sending you a hug across the distance.

nadege
Mar 27
Mar 27

Thanks Dawn in Him we get our strength, I'm strong hopefully your end, Be safe we are in this together.

vijaipm
Mar 27
Mar 27

Nadege - testing times give you more powers to self motivate and face the world. Things will get better soon and my prayers with you.

nadege
Mar 27
Mar 27

My sister Vijaipm sure , there is always light at the end of every tunnel, thanks for the support, same here my prayers with you

vijaipm
Mar 28
Mar 28

Thanks sister

Aparna Gopan
Mar 27
Mar 27

I'm glad to hear you are safe . It is indeed important to stay positive during these trying times. I wish you and the world healing and love :)

Dawn Arteaga
Mar 26
Mar 26

Aparna thank you for this powerful report and compelling photo. Keep up the amazing work.

Aparna Gopan
Mar 27
Mar 27

Thank You. Hope it creates an impact for the affected people. Stay safe :)

vijaipm
Mar 27
Mar 27

Aparna heart touching appeal and i really stand by you. Each and every village across the Globe is having such problems and more volunteers are vulnerable. It is not easy to create awareness and provide necessary essentials to all, and these volunteers are putting their life at stake to keep our lives safe.

Aparna Gopan
Mar 27
Mar 27

Thank you and it's true that it's the story of many more villages , especially those in conflict regions. Let us join our hands to give their stories a voice and hope it's loud enough for the authorities to see and react .

vijaipm
Mar 28
Mar 28

Absolutely Aparna.. we all join hands and voice out for these social reforms.

wordjourneys
Mar 27
Mar 27

So grateful you are raising awareness with your powerful words and witness of complicated situation. Sometimes it is up to writers, artists, photographers to share story of those who cannot share their own story at the moment. Thank you.

Aparna Gopan
Mar 27
Mar 27

Thank You..and it is true that it falls upon each of us to lend voices and lenses to those who have been forced into silence .

Tamarack Verrall
Mar 27
Mar 27

Dear Aparna,
This is heartbreaking. Voices are being raised globally for all of our governments to pay first attention first to those in the most danger with the fewest resources, combined with such racism, rather than meet behind closed doors to make money personally from this disaster. It is important for all of us to know what is happening and your message sends little known information. I hope many will use your contact numbers to turn this around.
In sisterhood,
Tam

Aparna Gopan
Mar 27
Mar 27

Dear Team,

Thank You and that's our hope as well..

Chinyere Kalu
Mar 30
Mar 30

Hmmm! What a sad and scary story emanating from an Indian village.Covid-19 is as real as today.More education is needed for people in remote areas to stay safe.I hope the migrant workers will be traced and quarantined before it becomes expinential.May help come to you!Kudos!

maeann
Apr 01
Apr 01

Aparna Hi :) I hope all is well with you and your family. Thank you for sharing this. Be safe.

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