Age: 32 years
Village: Manana, Panipat (Haryana)
Sunita reports from Manana: The epidemic is slowly getting out of hand. As a concerned citizen, the Sarpanch of my village, and a mother to two young children, I am worried sick for my community’s health as well as the rural economy.
We have distributed nearly 7,000 masks so far, besides regularly spraying the village with bleach, having residents take turns to patrol roads and commercial areas, and raising awareness about the virus. Upon my request, the local newspaper ran a message warning people against going out, placing a fine of Rs. 1,000 on deviants. I have myself stood with folded hands, begging them not to venture out of their homes. Yet, some people refuse to take the lockdown seriously, wandering about or playing in groups, making police intervention necessary at times. Unfortunately, they come back out as soon as the police leave. Low awareness, miscommunication and lack of understanding are some of the greatestest challenges we are faced with, in our battle against Coronavirus.
At the same time, most of us have managed to dissolve all differences and come together to secure our village on all fronts.
Some men have been appointed, while some others have volunteered to guard the entrance to the village, to prevent outsiders from entering Manana (ठेकरी पहरा). A roster of 25 people is made every day, to cover two shifts (6 AM-7 PM and 7 PM-6 AM); they are split into groups of 5 and positioned on the roads that lead to the village. They interrogate those who need to travel out of Manana, asking them the purpose and urgency of their visit. When those people return, they are made to wash themselves before re-entering.
For those who are coming back from other districts and states, the Panchayat mandates a proper check-up and treatment for them. Residents have been requested to notify the Panchayat if they or their neighbours receive any returning family member into their homes. Recently, four people returned to Manana from abroad. I made sure they went for an immediate checkup and were placed in quarantine. Two other people travelled outside Haryana on account of work and are now back – they are currently in isolation; we’ll make sure they are checked for symptoms in a couple of days.
That does not mean we are only looking out for ourselves. For those returning to their own villages and passing through Manana on the way, we have opened a makeshift shelter at the Government School for Girls, so they can rest, sleep or spend the night. It can accommodate around 400 migrants, but only a few have stopped by so far. We have also arranged for food, water, and bathing facilities for them, and will continue to do so in the future.
Hawkers and vendors from outside too have been categorically barred from setting up shop. Residents are encouraged to procure essentials from local establishments. As per government instructions, these stores are allowed to remain open only from 9 AM to 2 PM. To prevent overcrowding at these spots, we are encouraging shopkeepers to draw circles outside the shop, one metre apart. Customers must carry out their transactions from these within these circles.
Besides these preventive measures, our teams are also raising awareness on COVID through lively announcements across the village. These messages focus on how to identify COVID symptoms and what you should do to prevent contraction or transmission. We have also made sure every person in the village has access to hand sanitizers and clean water. Surgical masks are available for free at the government health centre. There are 8 health workers in our village (6 ASHA workers who are from the village, and 2 ANMs who are from outside). The health team is presently focusing only on flu and related symptoms.
With the rise in alcoholism, domestic violence, gambling, cases of hoarding and selling overpriced essentials around the country, we as elected representatives have a role to play in ending this menace. All liquor shops in Manana have been shuttered since March 21. We also received reports that a shopkeeper in our village was fixing high prices – I immediately called the police and filed a complaint against him. Speaking of domestic abuse, no such report has been brought to me yet, but when it does, I will certainly refer it to the police station. I personally go for a village inspection twice daily, and have delegated all Panchayat members to do the same.
I am extremely worried about the crops too, since most of my community’s livelihood depends on it. Harvest season is upon us, but we have to follow the strict lockdown rules. Since our farmers cannot physically harvest the crop, we are thinking of getting it done mechanically this year.
Given the pressure, help from the government is often late in arriving although free rations for BPL families are now available at the fair price shops. But there are many in the village who don’t have BPL cards. Hence, we are leading our own fund-raising efforts, reaching out to landowners who have always been involved in social service, to help the Panchayat in delivering rations to the poorest among us. On March 30, an army officer from our village conducted a donation drive, distributing essentials to Manana’s most vulnerable. It is heartening indeed, to see how our community joins forces to overcome a crisis. That is the only way we can combat a pandemic.
Sunita has been serving as the Sarpanch of Manana since 2015. This story has been compiled by Soniya Dahiya Khatri, Programme Officer (Haryana), and translated and edited by Prarthana Mitra, Programme Officer (Media and Communications) at Martha Farrell Foundation.