Women at the forefront of efforts in West Bengal

The living conditions of the Irular tribe leave them susceptible to an uncontrolled epidemic

In Birbhum district, West Bengal, people are returning from all parts of the country: daily laborers from Kerala and Mumbai, nursing students from Bangalore, and many others. 

Mohommed Bazar Backward Classes Development Society (MBBCDS), which works with women in the district, is trying to coordinate relief efforts in the villages. Although a positive case of COVID-19 has been reported in Birbhum; treatment and quarantine facilities are located in Kolkata, about 200 km away. 

Ayesha Katun of MBBCDS noted that while social media was helping create large-scale awareness, enforcing social distancing was proving to be a challenge. Young men returning from outside were congregating in village tea stalls, increasing the risk of transmission. Volunteers are mostly women, and are finding it difficult to persuade them to stay at home. MBBCDS therefore has to work with the women in the family to persuade these youth to follow social distancing. There have also been reports of treatment being delayed. A woman in Murarai village was made to wait for several hours in the hospital before being assessed for a fever. 

Ayesha is also concerned about the availability of provisions for the next month. The rice and potatoes promised by the state government, as well as digital ration cards, have not yet arrived. While some families are stocked for about three weeks, the tribal villages of Paniara, Baliara and Gopalpur have no food and will be in distress if food is not made available immediately. MBBCDS is working with the community to share the available food. A looming concern is the situation of farmers and daily laborers when they will need more provisions but do not have an income. Stocks of potatoes meant for the market are likely to go bad before the lockdown ends. In order to sell them, farmers now need to rely on middlemen. Villagers selling sheep and goats have been badly beaten by the police. They are waiting anxiously for the government to redeem its promises of remuneration. 

AID has sent $8000 to help the with COVID-19 relief efforts in Birbhum Dist, WB.

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Migrant workers have been stranded in large numbers due to India’s lockdown. The situation is precarious even for those who reached home.

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