Analysis

Take the rural population onboard to defeat Coronavirus 

Jivesh Jha

Jivesh

Given the panicky situation created by the novel Coronavirus across the world, we have to push the agenda of “united we live, divided we die” to combat the deadly disease.

We should be unanimous in our response to this epidemic. We are one nation. We cannot march against the outbreak of COVID-19 unless we firmly spread a message that collective effort is the only answer. We need to collectively fight against this contagion.

Still, if a disease does not discriminate a person on the ground of economy or political ideology, why do our state and private actors ignore the concerns of rural populations? Why does their grief and pain fail to touch them? Two-third of the Nepali population resides in rural areas. Ruralfolk cultivate crops for the urban people as well as those who enjoy the sophisticated life in Kathmandu’s villas.

The villages in Madhesh suffer the most during the emergency-like situations. They are the first grade of persons to have the risk of crisis amid emergency or the likes. Unambiguously, their concerns never become news. I realized that my uncles, cousins, and known ones in my village with whom I spent my childhood days are undergoing more tragedy than I am facing in Janakpurdham.

Here’s why. I was born in Bathnaha, a village in Mahottari district, situated along the Indo-Nepal border. My parents shifted to Janakpur in search of a better life or at least that’s what I would like to assume. Still, our bonding with village is intact as it’s our first identity which is also reflected in my citizenship card. Our stomach is filled with the crops cultivated from our village. But my villagers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts with whom I am so close are undergoing tough times during this Coronavirus-lockdown.

Border is sealed, lockdown continues, shops are dry, there is a crisis of essential commodities, and defence personnel from both sides (i.e., India and Nepal) are deployed along the border to control the movement of people. Public transport and movement of traffic and people has been suspended across the bordering villages. Unlike in Janakpur, people are unable to find green vegetables and grocery items.

The government should unleash a strong message among the people against the pandemic. The message should be like this: People from all walks of life are together in fight against the Coronavirus. The enforcement agency should enforce the lockdown, self-isolation and other preventive measures in villages to combat the deadly epidemic.

An innocent person who has a travel history or a cough should not be harassed as a Corona-suspect. Recently, a person who returned from Qatar was not allowed to stay in the village. The villagers were of the impression that those with travel history and/or cough and fever may be the potential carrier of Coronavirus. They would not have developed this sort of outlook had the government installed a temporary health-post to diagnose the possible victim of Coronavirus.

Rural population of Madhesh (living along the border) are destined to live with the same fate. Bathnaha’s story is much similar to other villages in Province-2 of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Though the country has seen a sea-change in the system of governance, this village is yet to see any change. The village doesn’t have a hospital; higher secondary school; or public transports; or roads connecting village with Jaleshwar, the district headquarter. During the rainy season, the village appears like an island with no road connectivity.

Bathnaha dwellers are not fortunate enough to have access of road or transportation connectivity with Nepali market. They are dependent on Indian markets for fertilizers, foods, medical treatment, medicine, and other essential commodities. Their money (Nepali currency) is not exchanged as per Nepal Rastra Bank or Reserve Bank of India directives. They have to suffer loss of NPR Rs 40 on every transaction as “Batta” (commission on exchange of currency).

The people of Bathnaha are worst hit due to the current lockdown as they are unable to meet their basic needs.

The people of Bathnaha are worst hit due to the current lockdown as they are unable to meet their basic needs. Government’s approach of taking the things for granted will certainly weigh heavy on future of the country.

As people are heavily dependent on India for daily chores and medicine, Bathnaha residents believe that they are merely taxpayers for Nepal. The local bodies have distributed mask and one lifebuoy soap to each family to fight against the deadly Coronavirus. They have not been provided medical assistance or food. How will they succeed in maintaining immunity and battle against deadly Coronavirus with a lifebuoy soap and a mask?

Most importantly, people are guarding the national boundary and are pledged to prevent encroachment of land by India’s paramilitary staffs (i.e., Sashastra Seema Bal). They are often misbehaved at the hands of Indian SSB. Bathnaha people are proud Nepalis guarding the national boundary. Despite this, their concerns and challenges are yet to be addressed.

Moreover, people deserve proper supply of logistic materials, seeds and fertilizers, animal nutrition, and other essential commodities from the government of Nepal. They deserve to pay tax to their government, not India’s, on every transaction.

Bathnaha

Image credit: RSS

Things have not changed for the people here even in federal democratic republican system of governance. More than ever, there is public hunger for the development and credible information. Neither the government has taken any good initiative for the betterment of the life of the people; nor do media think their stories will be newsworthy if they cover the village. Our audience is local; most of the journalists and writers have rural connection but none of them is much interested in developing the contents on rural life.

The complexities and challenges faced by the people often remain as the issues to be discussed in the village. So, how long the people of village need to face isolation? To tell you the truth, the rural people were, are and will be living in (self)-isolation unless a new political order is established to cure ills of an unequal society. Self-isolation could be a new recipe for the urban population but our villagers have been habituated to living in isolation. Moreover, their votes are taken but their concerns are ignored.

Rural population deserves right to live with dignity. Their concerns and challenges are worthy of national discourse. Villagers have shown their active involvement in all political movements so far in the country. Their contribution cannot be ignored. They deserve to be heeded. A picture of a broader Nepal cannot be imagined in the absence of villages. It’s high time people from all walks of life stood together in building a new socio-political order equally accommodating the concerns of rural and urban people.

Above all this, we should bear in mind that united we live, divided we die in fight against the deadly Coronavirus.

Published on 6 April 2020             

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