*Trigger Warning: Covid-19*
Last year I wrote a piece in the Forward Press titled When Coronavirus Strikes India’s Villages: Lessons from Rajasthan. It was when cases were arising continuously in urban areas and had less impact on rural areas.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), had warned us last year that rural areas may become the next hotbed to the coronavirus. Therefore, the government should have prioritised the rural public health system and invest in it. But what we see today is that our health system has collapsed and has been exposed from the national to rural level. The government has failed to give the necessary health facilities to the citizens of India.
The constitution ensures the right to life and liberty to its people, but India’s government failed to implement it. People who are dying due to lack of oxygen are not just mere deaths but must be seen as murders, murders by the state. International media agencies are criticising and questioning the strategies of our government in dealing with coronavirus.
When writing this piece, the confirmed cases reached 2,22,96,414, with total deaths of 2,42,399 in the country. The daily cases have crossed 4 lakh per day (4,09,689 in the last 24 hours). In Rajasthan, the active confirmed cases are 7,38,786, with total deaths of 5,506.
So now the virus has reached everywhere, no place or habitation is safe. It has knocked the door of all populations irrespective of caste, class, religion or any identity. In this piece, I will be sharing the current situation of my village, Bandersindri, and the status of testing and vaccinations.
All of us are only talking about the cities and the situation of COVID over there. Even in newsrooms or press conferences by the government, we hear about cities only. It is important to discuss because the situation is worse and we are seeing mass human destruction.
This country is divided into two parts, India and Bharat. All of us are talking about India. Even though there are facilities, it has been exposed. Education, awareness, they have everything. People can fight for their rights and they are doing their best.
On the other hand, more than 60% of the population lives in Bharat. It is the villages of the country, rural India or the Gaon. Hardly any newsrooms are covering the situation here. For these people, the facilities they see are only on TV. They hear the stories and news of India and its health system every day, but no one is concerned about them. The real Bharat is ignored in prime time debates.
The health systems in rural India works in three-tiers, i.e. Sub-centre, Community Health Centre and Primary Health Centre. My village, Bandersindri in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, with three other villages, is dependent on the Primary Health Centre (PHC). This PHC has no testing facility and vaccines come in slots. Merely 5% of people above 45 have been vaccinated with two doses because of a shortage of vaccines at the centre.
Two days back, 100 vaccines came to the centre. The panchayat (the local elected body) make a list of people to be vaccinated and send them to the PHC. Here, the game of favouritism is played by the local body; those who are close to Sarpanch are being vaccinated sooner than the others. Many older people in my street are still waiting for their first dose, whereas others for the second.
So the vaccination process is very slow at the village level, and now when the government announces vaccines for those above 18, I don’t have much hope because the process is too slow.
I got to know from family and friends that it may or may not be coronavirus, but the reality is every household has at least one member who is suffering from some disease.
Since there is no testing facility in the village, people have to travel 25 kms to get tested. So, very few get tested.
Another picture for not getting tested is that if any family member tests positive, the house is sealed, and no one can go out. In a rural economy, the concept of work from home does not exist. The rural economy completely depends on outdoor activities. So, staying at home is more disastrous for them.
Therefore, people do not get tested and simply get the treatment. Even doctors are found saying no to tests. When people ask the doctor about the coronavirus test, they say that “there is no need for the test” and that “it will be an unnecessary burden on your mental health”.
The lack of awareness and fear of being sealed is pulling back rural people from getting tested.
But here comes the question of spreading the virus. If one does not get tested, the virus cannot be detected, and they have no clue how many people it will reach. The chain of the virus is not breaking in the rural areas and only increasing day by day.
I see that people are wearing masks this time, but the norm of physical distancing is still a distant hope. Maintaining hygiene is the bigger question when it comes to rural areas. In my village, people still defecate in the open and use sand to wash their hands. Some use soaps, but very few people use sanitisers.
In urban areas, we see queues around testing centres and ATMs, but if you come to my village or any village in Rajasthan, you will find queues of people, especially women, around hand-pumps and wells for the water. They do not maintain social distancing and sit in groups. So many people are using the same hand-pump without sanitising it. Can you imagine breaking the chain of the virus?
Almost all the households are dependent upon hand-pumps and wells for the water. How can they remain inside the house if you seal them? They cannot because they have to go out for every activity, from bringing water to defecation to bringing wood for a fire to cook.
Breaking the chain of the coronavirus is an unattainable dream when it comes to rural India. We do not have any clue about the number of people originally affected by the virus. The real data is not known and even difficult to collect. The country is in the worst situation right now and we have no clue in which direction it will go.
As mentioned earlier, poor testing facilities, slow vaccination process, lack of proper surveillance, and lack of awareness led us into a disastrous situation. Three main principles are being discussed by scientist and doctors in dealing with the coronavirus, i.e. find and test every case, isolate the infected contacts and immunise them. But we as a country are failing even to find and test the case.
People are losing all hope from the government and its health infrastructure that has been exposed. People are in fear, not because of the pandemic, but the lockdown because last year they experienced the worst days of their life. Last year was a strong wake-up call for our government to invest in health, especially the rural health system, but it has disappointed us.
We live in a country without hope and in this negative situation, our government and its supporters are asking us to stay positive. How is that even possible? Everything in on bhagwan bharose, if there is one.