Innovation takes centre stage as UP villages aim to keep virus out
Lilawati Devi, the unlettered gram pradhan (head) of Bhujawal Khurd village in Kushinagar and Poonam Singh, the MBA-holder gram pradhan of Didauli village in Rae Bareli, are united by the common concern of protecting their villages from coronavirus infection.
Little wonder, villages in Uttar Pradesh are witnessing musical jan jagran (awareness campaign), raising anti-corona task force, devising indigenous home delivery models, stitching masks and distributing soap. They have also set up WhatsApp groups for sharing needs, news, problems and concerns and ensured the menfolk seal borders to bar foreign entry.
That’s not all. Amid the crisis, these women are also presenting a humane face.
While in some isolated incidents in urban centres vegetable vendors have been targeted on their religious identity, villagers are verifying the vegetable vendors more out of security concerns.
“Our village is on the Nepal border. Vendors come to our village to sell vegetables, fruits, milk and other essentials. We have prepared a list of all such vendors with their name, number and other details for verification. Any new vendor is subjected to interrogation by villagers, though there is no classification on religious lines,” said Pratima Mishra, 36, a graduate from Luchuiya village in Siddharthnagar, a district with significant migration to Mumbai and Delhi.
Along with her husband Pawan, the graduate village head, the couple have devised the doorstep delivery model to guard against overcrowding. All outsiders were sent to quarantine centres in the village and allowed to go home after 14 days in isolation.
“In these times, women are playing a huge role in making people aware. Women understand women better and so their support is crucial in creating awareness,” said Pawan.
In Chandwara village in Barabanki, village head Prakashini Jaiswal, 38, has, with the help of her husband Rituraj, deployed National Cadet Corps (NCC) members to maintain social distancing.
“We have fixed the time for procuring vegetables. Between 6am and 9am, all the villagers who require vegetables come out to get veggies. Social distancing is strictly ensured,” she says. Most of the villagers who returned home after the lockdown and quarantine have now been checked.
“There were 13 Jamaatis too in the village but all have tested negative. They are still in the village but it’s ok. In these times, all have to help each other. Only one person is in quarantine now and food for that person is prepared in our house,” Jaiswal said.
In March, while preparing food for quarantined people in her village, Lilawati Devi, the village head of Bhujawal Khurd in Kushinagar, faced an uncomfortable moment.
“One of the five persons refused to have food prepared by me, saying I was a dalit. I had prepared the food because the village cook had refused to serve means to them, saying he feared going near them. The accusation stung. After intervention, all got sorted out,” says Lilawati.
Then, there is Poonam Singh, 30, the modern village head of Didauli in Rae Bareli. She says her village started stitching masks before others.
“I think much before anyone started making homemade masks, we had started stitching masks at home for public distribution. All those village women who knew how to stitch were engaged in that task,” says Poonam.
To create awareness, Poonam, along with her husband Raj Kumar, 37, who holds a Master of Computer Applications (MCA) degree, also distributed soap in her village.
“I get my village sanitised twice every week and each person in the village has been motivated to do shram daan (voluntary labour) to ensure cleanliness,” she said.
In Akbarpur village, women are part of a novel anti-corona task force raised by village pradhan Amit Dwivedi.
“Women are able to convince women better and that makes a lot of difference. The anti corona task force has men too. But of course, making women aware is of huge importance and that makes a powerful, impactful statement,” said Dwivedi, 38.
The anti-corona task force runs awareness campaigns, distributes soap, masks and other essentials, keeps villagers posted with news.
In Latifpur village close to the state capital, Shweta Singh, the gram pradhan who holds an MCA degree, has launched a musical jan jagran (awareness campaign) in her village. With her team, she moves around the village playing cymbals. Another villager sings the lyrics penned by her that are aimed at creating awareness about social distancing protocols.
Another person on ‘dhol’ completes the music party in the village, which has been regularly updating the villagers about the need to follow certain restrictions.
“I go around making people learn the correct way to wash their hands. In fact, I believe not many know how to do that even in cities. Hence, I give special training to villagers on how wash hands properly. Our village has a WhatsApp group, a banking correspondent to take care of banking needs of the people. We are coming up with a novel waste segregation unit,” she says.