COVID Spreads in Rural India: A View From Alwar, Rajasthan
“There are many deaths. Two people died yesterday in my village. And, in the neighbouring village, one old lady died today due to COVID,” said Poonam Bai of Alwar District, Rajasthan to Abner Manzar during the third episode of DEF Dialogue. DEF Dialogue is an initiative of the Digital Empowerment Foundation to highlight the plight of rural India during the COVID–19 pandemic. Poonam runs DEF’s flagship programme SoochnaPreneur which has been proven instrumental in providing information and accessing welfare programmes in areas where the internet connectivity is patchy and electricity supplies are not stable. Even during the ongoing pandemic, like hundreds of SoochnaPreneur across the country, Poonam is also helping people in her locality in registering online for COVID–19 vaccination.
‘People Are Dying Everywhere’
Poonam said: “Last year, there were only a few cases of COVID–19. Our village had only two cases, and they too had come from outside, both servicemen. One was a doctor and one was a police official. Their houses were sealed. This time, there are already 15 cases in the village.” If official figures are to be believed, Rajasthan has total 9.36 lakhs COVID–19 cases out of which 8.71 lakhs have recovered till now and 8251 people have lost their lives.
Poonam said: “Alwar has many hospitals but they are overburdened.” She continued: I went to Kishangarh yesterday –– a nearby small town due to non-COVID related complications in my family. We saw that four patients were sharing one bed at the hospital so we returned home. The nurses seem overworked as well. The entire healthcare infrastructure is in a terrible condition.”
She added: “There is shortage of oxygen as well. I know someone in the neighbouring village, who needed oxygen. He had to wait for 8 hours, luckily he somehow survived. Many have died due to lack of oxygen. They were not even able to get admission in the hospital due long waiting periods. Many people with the symptoms of COVID–19 such as cough and high fever are going to the hospital. They have to wait for so long, and if any of them are in critical condition, they do not survive. That’s how bad the situation is at the hospitals. People are dying everywhere.”
Second wave of the COVID–19 devastated the country as the death toll crossed 3 lakhs and 2.8 crores COVID–19 positive cases officially. If news reports are to be believed then the death is in manifolds of the official figure –– at least 5 times. Crematoriums and graveyards were full, some of them even had queues. As infection started to create havoc in April 2021 across the country, medical and oxygen supplies crumbled. Since the COVID–19 hit the Indian shore in March 2020, unpreparedness has been the hallmark of the current regime. As anxiety and helplessness gripped
the country during the second wave, people died at home, on the streets while searching for beds in the hospitals.
She said that local authorities are trying hard to help people with whatever limited resources they have. People must take this virus seriously as well. She said: “There is a small PHC in my village. It has all the facilities and also tests for COVID–19. Those who are coming from outside, we sent them to the PHC –– Primary Health Center –– for COVID–19 tests. The local healthcare workers register them and get them tested either immediately or the next day. If they test positive, they are provided with medicines at home.”
Rising Unemployment and Uncertainty
Poonam talks about rising unemployment and uncertainty in her village. She said: “Labourers have lost their livelihood. We are trying to help them in any way we can, we are providing free masks and rations to the needy. Many migrant labourers have returned back. They were not even paid by their employers. Now, they have returned to the village and they do not have any food or income.” The horror that unfolded after the first wave of COVID–19 and subsequent lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the virus in March 2020 is still afresh amongst the migrant workers. The government of India led by Narendra Modi imposed the world’s most stringent lockdown without even informing people in advance. People were left on the streets without work or food. Many died. Many walked a thousand kilometers to get back home. Poonam added: “They came back as they feared they would get stuck like they did last year.”
Poonam said that people are facing economic hardship in her locality. There is no work. Everything is just so uncertain. She said: “There were 80 people who were working under NREGA –– an act that ensures minimum days of work in rural areas –– in the locality where she lives –– Untwal. 50 of them got COVID. People who were dependent on NREGA, are also facing economic hardship. NREGA is not going to start again anytime soon as the cases continue to increase.”
When all this was happening, the central government and its ministries were busy campaigning in West Bengal, where the assembly election recently held. They were muzzling free speech in the county by clamping down on social media platforms. The COVID vaccination centres are being closed across the country as the central government has not procured enough vaccines when they had time. The country is in dire need of vaccines to curb the spread of infection and further casualties, but the government is going ahead with Narendra Modi’s ambitious Central Vista Project. In any democratic country, there must be accountability for the people who lost their lives due to mismanagement but not in New India. We must take care of ourselves, as Poonam suggested: “People need to take care of their health in their own hands.”