Protesting farmers at Rohad toll tax in Haryana in June 2021 | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Protesting farmers at Rohad toll tax in Haryana in June 2021 | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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Jhajjar: Are farmers protesting at the Delhi border carrying the terrible coronavirus to their villages?

They strongly refute the very suggestion but deaths in their homes belie that confidence.

Even after two unforgiving waves, farmers continue to hold that protest sites are impregnable to the disease.

However, many villages that sent farmers to protest against the three controversial agriculture laws saw a large number of deaths due to Covid. Rohad village in Jhajjar district, for example, has seen 70 deaths in the last two months. It has a population of around 10,000.

Mask-less farmers squatting at the toll gate outside Rohad agree “the mahamari exists” but “none of us have even developed a fever”. Farmer Wazir Singh said they had been at the site for last six months, more were at the Tikri border, but were “safe from the disease”.

The toll in villages tells a different story, though.

According to Jhajjar police data, 51 of the 88 Covid deaths in May were in villages where farmers actively participated in protests.

Moreover, in the 10 hotspot villages, farmers in seven regularly visited the protest sites at Delhi borders.

The Haryana Police surveyed death rates in Rohtak, Sonipat, Jhajjar, Jind and Hisar districts in mid-May. Director General of Police Manoj Yadav said the villages selected were those that sent most farmers to the two protest sites at Kundli and Tikri near Delhi.

He said: “There was a sharp increase in deaths this year as compared to 2020 during the same period. Nearly 15 per cent of the dead had tested positive for Covid. Lack of tests is not giving the full picture but the numbers are higher.”

Yadav added that protest sites were not the “only reason” behind infections in the state. “Awareness is low among protesting farmers. They do not permit tests at dharna sites or follow Covid-appropriate behaviour. Farmers listen to their leaders and these men must ensure their well-being so the situation improves.”


Also read: Thin crowds show farm protests in crisis, Haryana Police says. Farmers disagree, blame Covid


Fact and fiction

The protesting farmers, however, seemed to be firm in their belief that the dharnas have not caused Covid cases to spike.

Rohad sarpanch Satish Kumar admitted 70 had died from Covid or with Covid-like symptoms in a month. The village regularly sends vegetables, milk and other essential items to the protest sites. “Covid has spread like wildfire here. But that is because villagers didn’t understand lockdown guidelines and were callous. The protests have not contributed to cases,” he said.

Some farmers also believe the disease is a conspiracy. “Most of the dead in Rohad passed away due to old age and other diseases. Covid has not touched the Tikri protest site,” said Dayanand, 58.

ThePrint met Jasbir in Rohad who lost his wife Murti to Covid. That is what the doctors told him too. Both visited Rohad and Tikri protest sites every day before falling sick.

Jasbir at his home with his grandchildren. His wife Murti dies of Covid-19 in April 2021 | Siraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Jasbir at his home with his grandchildren. His wife Murti dies of Covid-19 in April 2021 | Siraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

But Jasbir, who tested positive along with his three-year-old granddaughter, is not convinced. “These days, even if anyone dies in a bike accident, people think it is Covid. Doctors said my wife passed from the disease but I am not sure. Who knows? But there is certainly no Covid at the protest site.”

Farmers are reluctant to take vaccines too. The chief medical officer’s team in Jhajjar could only administer six shots at Tikri and 40 at Dansa protest sites by 31 May, despite conducting 10 sessions for vaccination.

Sumit Grewal, one of the protestors, said his brother works at AIIMS and administers vaccines to hundreds every day. But, he claimed, his brother has advised him not to take the vaccine. Sumit could not answer why, and said he never asked his brother the reason either.

There were also some who fear their comorbidities could endanger their lives after taking the shots. Nardev Singh, a retired electricity board officer in Haryana, has the last word: “Doctors don’t vaccinate us. ASHA workers, nurses and midwives do it. They don’t care if we are ill. They inject us anyway. It is unsafe.”


Also read: In this Haryana village where ‘40 people died’ in 3 weeks, residents want vaccines not tests


 

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