Abner Manzar

21st June 2020

We decided to take today easy and rest and assimilate what we experienced in the last ten days.

Ravi Guria

22nd June 2020

There are less than 2000 recorded corona cases in Jharkhand. Jharkhand government appears to be way more effective than UP and Bihar government.

32000 Sahiyya Didi (also called Kitchen Didi) in Jharkhand are relentlessly working to conduct surveys, build awareness and provide food to the affected people in the villages. They are provided with ration by the state government through panchayat and they cook to feed 70-100 people daily. Sahiyya is an alternative name for Asha workers in Jharkhand, who are community level women health workers. They have dedicated themselves for a modest salary of Rs. 1000 per month.

Women working as Sahiyya Didi also had to put up with stiff resistance from the community. Since they are working closely with potential corona carriers, people boycotted them on many occasions for being carriers themselves. However, they continued in their mission despite challenges. If Jharkhand is and has been able to combat corona crisis better than UP and Bihar, then a large part of that success should be attributed to the strong organisational force of Sahiyya Didi.

Socio-cultural set-up of Jharkhand is different from UP and Bihar. Here people may not be very literate, but their education level is considerably higher.

In UP and Bihar we found that people would end up having many children in their desire for a son or sons, which puts intense financial pressure on them; whereas in Jharkhand family planning is adhered to by choice.

Youth is aspirational. One tribal boy was giving tuitions to children from 1st to 10th standard in his village, before he had to migrate to Bangalore to increase his income. His favourite subjects are Maths and English. He takes pride in the fact that ‘Zero’ was invented in India. He had to put his education temporarily on hold because of a loan that his family had to take, but his self-respect wouldn’t allow him to speak openly about it. He had a plan to work for sometime until he repays the loan and then he would pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. Lockdown was an unexpected event, which put paid to those plans. However, he also perceives his sudden move to his village as a blessing in disguise. As a new strategy, he wants to restart tuitions for children, through which he has worked out how he can repay the loan and pursue studies.

Another boy selflessly gave up his studies so his elder brother and younger sister could finish their education. He started working at a very young age. Now he is working with a company in Hyderabad. He has more lucrative offers in the city, but he doesn’t want to quit the company out of loyalty, where he has worked for 4-5 years. His brother is a graduate, who owns a small shop of mobile phones, but still earns less than him. He says, “If everybody does big things, then who will do smaller things.” He is happy being a vital spoke in the wheel. He has no problem with the company that laid him off or the government that he believes is doing everything to alleviate their pain. “They did what they had to do,” he rues with an understanding nod. Still he would like his state government to step-up for people like him who are struggling because of lack of opportunities.

Owning more than one acre of land is normal in Jharkhand. However, a lot of that land is uncultivable or they are hampered by lack of sources of irrigation because of mountainous location of the land, despite having abundant water resources. Lack of technology and training to undertake farming suitable to their region sets them back.

There are political forces that prevent Jharkhand from becoming potentially an agricultural state. Being a mineral rich state is a boon and bane. Jharkhand is endowed with scenic mountains and green forests. However, wanton mining has been a scourge for the state for decades.

The CM of Jharkhand has filed a case against the central government that wants to privatise the mines in the state. Now gold reserves have also been found in the state. A state that is so rich in minerals, it cannot be justified that its people who are the real owners of these resources should struggle for basic existence.

The CM has gained appreciation from people by being physically present to receive migrant labourers at the airport and railway station. He has also visited them in the villages, even though he has only done so in Santhal Pargana, being a Santhali himself.

However, the migrants who have returned from South India, have not missed to point out how well they were treated there, in comparison to what their own state has offered. Suffice to say that poorer states are ill prepared for disaster management and lack organisational capacity of stronger states.

One of the main reasons for the migrants to return was to be close to their families. They have little information about coronavirus, and they desire to be around their near and dear ones if they get infected and presumable fatality takes place.

However, paranoia and misinformation doesn’t plague only the poor migrant labourers who have unfortunately become the face of coronavirus. Even the literate and so called informed urban sections tend to become paranoid when one has been working with migrant labourers. They are not easily pacified even when they are told that these migrant labourers have served their quarantine and are completely safe.

A drunkard swinging on the road on being pointed that he is not wearing a mask remarked, “I have natural powers to fight Corona.”

Alcohol and tobacco have been major problems in Jharkhand for years. Ironically, it has been the reason for financial misery and deaths, on a more severe level than coronavirus. However, not much has been achieved to address it so far because health has never been a major concern until now for people or the state government. If the change caused by the pandemic brings about institutional and mindset change amongst people towards health, then that would be the biggest victory for the state.