Punjab has reported 7327 cases today. As per the official report 58% of the cases in the second wave of corona virus have come from the rural Punjab. Punjab government has imposed new restrictions from 2nd May 2021 to 15th May 2021. The restrictions are an alternate term for complete lockdown. An important feature and point in the restrictions is the ban on Farmer Gatherings and protests in Punjab. Government has very clearly said that protests be made with Token Presence at the Toll Plazas. In this piece I look to explore some reasons for the surge in rural Punjab.
There is an increased complacency about the virus. As per the administration the people in villages are not completely aware about the virus and it’s implications. Harbans Singh at a mandi in Tarn Taran says that this is a flu that has been shown in mega proportions. He says that it is the corporations that aim to control the medicine using this flu.
Harbans singh is not alone, I talked to few other villagers in the Mandi who got vaccinated not because they wanted to but Punjab govt made it mandatory to have ‘vaccinated card’ for entering into Mandis. Farmer Gurdyal singh at grain Mandi Bathinda tells me that he feels healthy and his diet is puratan (ancient) so his immunity is stronger than those of City folks. He says that vaccine is a formality that he did for carrying out activity in the Mandi. Punjab has however succeeded in inoculating more than 10,000 farmers in the Mandis.
When we look at the villages the things are not very smooth. Even though punjabis are not very rigid but are reluctant to getting tested. The testing and screening teams had to face challenges in many villages. The major challenge is to convince people that “it is not a scam”. Hardeep Kaur in Bathinda tells me that “everyone is testing positive, how is is it possible, my neighbor and everyone in our lane tested positive, it is definitely a scam.”
The youth and especially educated girls are the Covid heroes carrying out the campaign against the misinformation in the rural Punjab. Supreet Kaur and her friends say that they have managed to convince their parents and relatives to get vaccinated.
The challenges however are not limited to misinformation and rigidities in society. The major challenge is that of economic reasons. Most people in Punjab’s villages are small land holders and as such have hand to mouth income all around the year. The fear of getting tested and coming out Positive is pushing people away from getting tested at all. Surjit Singh a small land holder tells me that “if I test positive, who will feed my family. I have a loan and I can not afford to miss a day at work.” He works in a factory that makes toys. Even though Punjab government has announced that it will provide ration to families affected by the virus, people are reluctant to rely on state for ration. “The needs of a human are more than just ration” says Gujit Singh who works in a local press.
In addition to these challenges the important challenge for people and health authorities in Punjab is to keep note of positive patients and contact trace them. Many people after getting the information of being positive leave the hospitals and go absconding because they don’t experience the symptoms. These people can act as spreaders in the rural community. It is hard to tackle this challenge without shutting down the state and ensuring vaccination for all. Punjab has not received enough vaccines for all to commence its 18-45yr drive. It remains to be seen how the spread is contained in the rural Punjab.