Bent but not broken: How rural India copes with COVID


ASHRAF KHANOur KBC youth leader Ashraf reports.

Name: Ashraf Khan
Age: 14 years
Village: Namunda, Panipat (Haryana)
School: Government Senior Secondary School

In a matter of two weeks, the global scourge wreaked by Coronavirus Disease or SARS-COV-2 has exposed the socio-economic fault lines that dictate human survival today. The burden of this pandemic has been the heaviest on vulnerable sections of our society, particularly daily-wage earners, migrant laborers, the homeless and the incarcerated. With a statewide lockdown underway in several nations, a rise in domestic violence against women and children has also been reported widely.

In India, as the number of active cases crosses the 1,000 mark, Kadam Badhate Chalo youth leader, Ashraf Khan, weighs in on how the public health crisis affects him and his community in Namunda, a village in Panipat, Haryana. Aware of how the virus is transmitted from person to person, Ashraf is currently practicing isolation but he is not entirely sure how long it’ll continue to serve their best interests.

The 14-year-old highlights the daily challenges posed by the epidemic and subsequent measures, saying, “We are unable to till our land or graze our cows for fear of police crackdown. Shops in our village are only open for two hours every day – from 8 to 11 AM.” The Gram Panchayat is playing a key role in ensuring villagers stay indoors, he informs, in deploying volunteers along the roads to disseminate crucial information on the virus and to dissuade them from going out.

While he acknowledges the need for such vigilant patrolling to control the spread of this disease, Ashraf also finds himself preoccupied with forebodings about the future, especially given how his parents are out of employment. “My mother and my father are farm laborers but since the lockdown, there is no work anywhere. Harvest season is supposed to begin; but without the money from this year’s crop, how will we buy grains for the rest of the year?”

A seventh-grade student of Government Senior Secondary School, Ashraf was already on a break after finals, when the lockdown was announced. He is not sure when classes will resume but that is not a primary concern for him or his parents right now. Ashraf usually travels to the city to get monthly rations but despite assurances that fair price shops will remain open, there is uncertainty for those who have to travel long distances to procure rations. “We have stocked up on the essentials for now, but it will get over someday, and that thought keeps me awake all night. Will we be able to go to the city to get supplies next month?” he wonders.

Speaking of the mental stress of isolation, even inside the house, Ashraf confesses that it is difficult to stay apart, eat apart and sleep apart. “We are always scared of catching some infection or the other,” he rues, shedding light on the collective paranoia in his community. At the same time, he criticizes those who refuse to take the ramifications of community transmission seriously – wandering out as soon as the police leave and endangering other members of the community in the process. According to Ashraf, this behavior stems from a lack of scientific understanding and ends up making it more difficult to control the epidemic.

With two more weeks of lockdown to go, the concerns voiced by Ashraf here certainly underscore the crisis unfolding in India. As the epidemic pushes India’s public healthcare system to test its limits, correct information in the hands of rural communities and resilient action by local governments as in Namunda, can go a long way in containing it.

PrarthanaPrarthana Mitra is a writer who works on the intersections of gender and culture. She recently completed her Masters in literature and has joined Martha Farrell Foundation as Programme Officer – Media and Communications.

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