Gram panchayats in rural Rajasthan, led by strong women leaders, are leaving no stone unturned in fighting the pandemic, says Dr Abha Sharma
Katudevi Peetharam, the sarpanch of Darbari, a newly formed panchayat in the far-flung desert district of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, is quite busy these days. After causing destruction in urban regions, when the second wave of COVID-19 entered rural India, this elected representative became quite vigilant. She now takes regular rounds in every village that falls under her gram panchayat ensuring that the protocols are followed in each village. She also distributes masks if she notices someone lowering their guard. Katudevi has stepped up her efforts to manage the Covid situation in these times of gloom and despair to safeguard her people.
Why is she focussing so much on the awareness drive this time? “Once bitten, twice shy,” she says adding that, “Our panchayat had COVID-19 cases in the first wave, and we don’t want the second wave to hit again.” The villagers need to be reminded constantly. She organises regular meetings to ensure that people follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. Her gram panchayat has urged the villagers to immediately report if anyone has fever or symptoms of the virus.
A responsible leader, Katudevi ensured that all the revenue villages and hamlets falling in her jurisdiction were duly fumigated with sodium hypochlorite and that there was no violation of lockdown norms. The panchayat also took care to distribute ration kits to the needy. As her panchayat is yet to develop its own medical infrastructure, they are dependent upon the neighbouring Dabla panchayat.
Katudevi is joined by several other grassroots women leaders in this fight against COVID-19. The Jalpaka panchayat in the Rishabhdev sub-division of Udaipur district has also successfully managed to keep the villagers safe from the virus. The panchayat has four revenue villages and a population of nearly 6,000. In the past 13 months, not a single Corona case has been reported in the panchayat. The success mantra lies in the performance of the young team formed by the Sarpanch Ramila Meena and her ward members. She regularly monitors her teams’ efforts in ensuring COVID-19 appropriate behaviour in the villages.
“The village vigilance committees have worked quite well in the panchayat. When the migratory folks returned home from Maharashtra and Gujarat, they were quarantined in the fields before being allowed entry to the village,” the SDO Govind Singh Ratnu said.
While marriages are being performed strictly as per COVID-19 protocol, villagers have restricted observance of death rituals too. The usual congregation of the whole village during funerals, third-day obituary meetings, and 12th-day rituals has now been curbed.
In another district of the Mewar region, the women sarpanch of Gadola in Chittorgarh district, Rasali Devi was quick to anticipate the impending COVID-19 crisis in the village. When the village witnessed three deaths and nearly 90 positive patients in the village, she approached the administration to immediately open a Covid Care Centre in the village school campus. She also ensured the availability of oxygen to avoid panic in her village.
Since it is a bare necessity to fetch water from the well, she made arrangements for door-to-door delivery of drinking water to make sure womenfolk were not forced to step out of the house and assemble at the panghat (well) in groups.
The fear of the virus had led to a situation where people had started avoiding the COVID-19 test. Generating awareness and preparing them to cooperate in testing was a challenge but Rasali’s efforts to ensure timely tracking, testing, and the treatment worked. A strict lockdown was observed, and with the help of the administration, she ensured that no one violated the government guidelines. Soon, the village was free from the virus.
Bhuribai Gameti, the tribal sarpanch of Kanpur panchayat, well utilised the lockdown period to work towards village safety, particularly of women and schoolgirls. “Apart from effective COVID-19 management, the panchayat has performed well on other fronts as well,” said Gehri Lal, ex-ward panch.
“I feel happy that the COVID-19 period could be utilised to install CCTV cameras and proper lights in the panchayat. The women will feel safer stepping out when the lockdown comes to an end. We also started garbage collection from doorstep because good hygienic conditions are essential for good health,” Bhuribai shared.
For Santosh Kanwar, the sarpanch of Badoda village, the COVID-19 period has been quite a challenging experience. Several villages of this panchayat are not yet well connected by road to the panchayat headquarters. The village witnessed over two dozen deaths during the second wave. This gave Santosh a tough time as he tried to contain the pandemic and take necessary measures to diffuse panic among the villagers. Now her priority is to work with the administration to upgrade health infrastructure in the village.
In the tribal-dominated Banswara district, all panchayats have performed well, many of them led by several women sarpanch and ward panch. Out of the 11 panchayat samitis in the district, there are 934 villages in the district which have successfully kept Coronavirus at bay.
Not restricted by any boundaries this time, the COVID-19 virus has spread wider and deeper in this wave. Every region — urban, rural or tribal has been impacted by it. These gram panchayats, led by strong women leaders, are leaving no stone unturned to fight the pandemic. They are the beacon of hope and these women at the helm of affairs in these panchayats have surely exhibited their crisis management ability.