The surge in COVID 19 pandemic in rural India is still not coming in the way of weddings, rituals and other ceremonies, all of which are well attended. But those who are better acquainted about the pandemic fear the villages are ripe for an explosion of COVID 19 cases.
Guidelines issued by the authorities are being flouted with impunity, especially in rural areas.
Kshitij Sharma, a student of Calcutta University, West Bengal, returned home to his village Sitalpur in Bihar when his college closed down for the assembly elections. He was aghast at what he found back home.
“Every other day, we have a marriage ceremony in our village. If not a wedding, then some other rituals and no one is observing any physical distancing or wearing a mask,” he told Gaon Connection. Cities are observing lockdowns but it’s a complete circus in the villages of Bihar,” said the exasperated Sharma.
Not just from his village that lies 36 kilometres from the state capital Patna, but people from other districts also come to these events, he said. “There should be an immediate ban on such ceremonies otherwise the situation will go out of control,” a clearly worried Sharma told Gaon Connection.
Meanwhile, 350 kms away from Sitalpur, Girendra Jha, a farmer, a writer and a native of Poornia, also in Bihar, decided to do something about this and he launched a campaign on social media, calling for a boycott of all gatherings.
“Weddings, parties, rituals and feasts should all be boycotted in these times. Start saying NO to people. If someone visits you with an invitation card, say it openly that raising crowds is not a good idea during a pandemic. If it’s a digital invitation card on WhatsApp, just reply and tell them it’s wrong,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Talking to Gaon Connection, Jha said that while last year Bihar was left relatively unscathed by the pandemic, this year has been grim.
“In Samastipur, a ritualistic meal was organised on April 25 after a woman passed away due to Corona. Relatives from Delhi also attended the event,” Jha recounted. When the household was tested for COVID, 10 of them were found to be positive, he said.
“I have isolated myself in my room for the last twenty days. That is the only way to escape the pandemic’s grip. There are weddings in my locality almost every other day. There’s loud music and crowds,” he said. Jha has decided that he will avoid gatherings at any cost even if it means angering relatives or hurting traditions. And he is urging everyone else also to do the same.
April and May are the wedding months in the country and this is the second consecutive year that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the season has lost its lustre. Extravagant weddings are not possible anymore because of the restrictions imposed on people to contain the spread of coronavirus.
But the guidelines issued by the authorities are being flouted with impunity, especially in rural areas.
“About two weeks ago, there were two weddings in the village on April 16 and April 17. A few days later it was followed by dust storms and rains and a lot of people began coughing. We dismissed it as a seasonal infection,” Ashuram Godara from Palaana village in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, told Gaon Connection. When the coughs did not go away, people got themselves tested and many of them were found to be COVID positive, he added.
Till now, no one in Palaana village, located about 330 kms from state capital Jaipur, with a population of about 4,000 people, had taken the pandemic seriously. It was something that happened to ‘others’ not them.
“When five or six cases were detected, the government sent a van on April 20 to test the villagers. Eighty people tested positive,” 38-year-old Godara said. He was one of them and he isolated himself at home.
“…it is vital to break the chain of infections to combat the menace of the Coronavirus. It won’t be possible to do so if crowds keep swelling at the wedding ceremonies,” Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tweeted in an appeal to the people that all weddings should be postponed and crowds must be avoided.
The Rajasthan government has permitted a total of 31 people in the weddings till May 17 whereas Bihar allows 100 people to attend the wedding ceremonies. But social activists are urging the government to impose a total ban on weddings and public functions.
Umesh Dhandadia, a resident of Jhanjhandia village in Jhunjhunu district’s Sooratgarh tehsil, told Gaon Connection that there is no case of COVID19 in his village but “many people are sick in various houses”.
He is however apprehensive, as he knows, through social media, how elsewhere, people are dying of oxygen shortage and there is mayhem.
“I am terrified. The condition in Rajasthan’s villages is not so bad, but if weddings are not taken care of, the situation can explode and it will be hard to contain the infections,” Dhandadia said.
In a press briefing on April 26, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated that most of the states have surpassed their records of reporting COVID19 cases in a day, as compared to the data of the last year.
As per the statement issued on April 26, Rajasthan’s daily number of COVID19 cases have risen by 4.8 times and Bihar has surpassed its peak by 3.1 times, as compared to the previous year.
Bihar’s situation is even worse now.
It is reported that Bihar presently has over 1 lakh active COVID19 cases. Patna leads the caseload with over 17,000 active cases during the current second wave. But five other districts with a large rural population have recorded an increase of over 4,000 active cases this month: Gaya (7,703 active cases), Muzaffarpur (5,406), Saran (4,778), Begusarai (4,675), Aurangabad (4,364).
In sharp contrast, during the last year’s peak of COVID19 in the state, in September 2020, Bihar had 12,686 active cases with Patna having the maximum of 1,981 cases.