The ground reality is starting to look very different because of the lockdown. Health issues seem to be least on the minds of people. Listen to these voices from across the country coming on our various community media platforms to understand what’s happening, from an unfiltered and untouched perspective, and the assistance being provided by our teams and volunteers. We hope the situation stabilizes soon and public attention comes back to health, and to seek advice, follow advisories, and be compassionate to one another. Each of these links is to an audio file.
In rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, and MP, while there is a lot of action by local authorities to distribute food, and many social workers and local NGOs have come to the rescue as well, but there is a lack of coordination that can be facilitated by the government such as to demarcate areas or direct people to go to the right places for help. Mobile Vaani volunteers have stepped up to raise these issues to the government and are helping connect people facing food shortages with social workers and Gram Panchayat authorities. Even temple pujaris are out of food and citizen groups have had to act against black marketing and rising prices which have gone up manifold. Our volunteers have also continued the hard work to hold PDS shopkeepers to account.
Several MLAs have offered their houses to serve as isolation wards while schools and panchayat bhawans are also being provisioned to serve as quanrantine units for returning migrants, but food and cleanliness problems persist. These people have walked back hungry because shops along the way are closed, hitched rides on trucks, or whatever means they could find to come back to the safety of their families, but the localites are stressed that those not following quarantine rules will cause the infection to spread and are acting as vigilantes. Clearly all this can spiral easily into communal social unrest and the government should issue more emphatic communication urgently via the Gram Panchayats. Unfortunately however there are also reports of irrational violent police action which doesn’t help alleviate tensions of people.
Reports say that markets are still on in many places and leading to large crowds but thankfully many shops even in rural areas have started social distancing practices by drawing circles on the ground for people to stand. It is a tough situation though. Shortages of gas cylinders is leading to large lines and pushing and shoving. All this calls for greater coordination by distribution agencies, as also seen at bank branches where large crowds assembled to withdraw cash and waited for several hours, but the bank later said that they didn’t have cash to disburse. This could have been conveyed earlier by them.
A similar lack of appropriate communication and coordination is much needed for health facilities. OPDs are closed in most public health centers and cases are coming up of a husband running around with a bleeding pregnant wife or people with injuries not getting medical attention. Physically disabled people are also facing similar issues in their day to day life. Community health workers are working hard to spread awareness but they are out of personal protection wear and in fact are facing stigma by their own village people for having higher chances of infection. Appeals have also been issued by PDS shopkeepers to be provided with masks and gloves, they are even ready to purchase them out of personal funds but nothing is available in the market.
In such an environment, people are anxious about their health and even approach doctors whom they trust, but based on user feedback we have decided to suspend the self-assessment IVR survey we had put up on Mobile Vaani since it was creating greater anxiety among the people. We plan to open it up after some time when things are more stable. We are continuing to run the survey on the state-wide COVID-19 IVRs that are being promoted by our partner field teams who are trained on public health, and we are watching out for more feedback.
Work was continuing at a railway line despite the lockdown and our volunteers helped alert the authorities about it, but on the other hand farmers are upset because workers are not available for harvesting and clear guidelines are not being issued by the government. Feed availability for livestock is also becoming an issue and our volunteers helped escalate this issue for resolution in a few places. Due to a lack of work, people are facing hardship with availability of food and money. There are cries for help from the rural poor who live hand to mouth on a day to day basis. And also cries for help from their relatives stuck in far away cities in Karnataka or Jalandhar or Kerala or Mumbai or Gurgaon or Manesar or Haryana or Tirupur or Ahmedabad where the local state governments are trying to provide food but it is irregular and of poor quality, their landlords are pushing for eviction and employers or contractors are not paying wages, people are afraid to step out because of the police, and helplines are not working. The living conditions of workers in cities were terrible to begin with, and now it is only worse. A mother from Madhubani who came to Delhi for treatment of her 15 year old daughter is now stuck here. They just want to go back to their families and loved ones but the lack of consistent communication by different state governments is causing a lot of confusion and stress. They want clarity on relief measures and how they will operate, they want action from the government and not just promises. The need is urgent and people are helpless, they have no way other than to walk back home. Even those who are settled in cities have run out food and fuel for cooking. Our teams are trying to connect such people with organizations that can help, with food or cash, but the need is very large.
On the other hand, people are also facing issues with accessing the relief benefits announced by the different governments. Many farmers have not received any DBT transfers for PM-KISAN as yet, clearly due to Aadhaar linkage issues. Gas cylinders have not been delivered because of the lockdown. There is no news on the advance ration promised.
Listen to more stories here, running upwards of 3000 now on COVID-19 related issues, and also stories of impact by our volunteers. A shorter pruned list of stories, reasonably up to date, is also maintained here. And write to us at email@example.com if you are working on the ground in Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, UP, Delhi NCR, Tamil Nadu, or Karnataka in any of the areas listed in the annexure of the note here.
All people are the same. All of us want dignity, stability, love, peace… yet all people are also different, coming from different contexts, different needs, different circumstances… the government and all of us need to be more communicative, more open to understanding one another, more compassionate, and only then do we stand chance as a society to live together and allow everybody to prosper. In our view, some things the state governments should do:
- Clarify that regular OPD functioning at the PHCs should restart
- Set up a helpline for PDS dealers and other shopkeepers to alert on supply shortages, and take immediate action to identify transportation or other bottlenecks that might be hampering the supply of food
- Run emphatic loud-speaker announcements via the Gram Panchayats urging people to be compassionate towards migrant workers returning home, to help ensure that their symptomatic testing is not unduly stressful, that their isolation wards are clean and food is provided to them, and that this should be a duty of the entire community and not just the state. Similarly, also communicate about the tough job that is done by the health workers, and to support them in such a difficult situation
- Issue guidelines on how to avail relief measures announced by various governments, but also provide easy routes for people who don’t have ration cards, or don’t have pension accounts linked with Aadhaar, or active Jan Dhan accounts. A simple cash disbursement process should be developed for them, or vouchers should be given for the purchase of essential commodities
- Ensure that community health workers are looked after, that they have adequate protective gear, and that training and treatment protocols are clearly communicated to them
- Workers who are continuing to stay in cities because of the lockdown, despite having no work any more, should be given a regular supply of cash or food without fail
- All service providers should be issued advisory on how to coordinate their distribution activities like by issuing tokens, and issue clear communication to the people, so that there is no unnecessary crowd buildup and stress on the people, and the police are not forced to intervene in a harsh manner to control the crowd