Kolkata: Tribal villages in West Bengal, bordering Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha, have voluntarily initiated measures to practise social distancing and isolation to fight the spread of the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
Residents in dozens of tribal villages in Purulia, West Midnapore, Bankura, Jhargram and Birbhum have blocked the entry-exit points of their villages with bricks, bamboo and tree logs. They have even put placards, saying: ‘Grame probesh nishedh (No entry to the village)’.
District officials are all praise for the villagers saying the awareness among the tribal population is very high.
“We have come to know that in some villages the tribal population has blocked the outsiders’ entry… To protect their relatives and other villagers, the migrants who have returned, are even willingly staying out of the villages,” Purulia District Magistrate Rahul Majumdar told ThePrint.
The steps taken by these tribals stand in sharp contrast to the incidents of quarantine norm violations by people in urban areas of the state.
The state’s first Covid-19 patient, student of a renowned university in the UK and son of senior official serving in the Bengal home department, created a stir after it emerged that he had skipped coronavirus tests after returning to Kolkata from London.
The patient’s mother even attended office at the state secretariat despite receiving a communication from London that a couple of her son’s friends had tested positive for the virus.
Self-isolation on trees
At least 11 villages in Para, Puncha, Barrabazzar, Balarampur, Bagmundi blocks in Purulia, at least five villages in Birbhum’s Suri and Sainthia blocks, and a couple of villages in Jhargram have been cordoned off by the residents.
The tribals are even refusing to allow migrant labourers or outsiders to enter the villages.
Migrant labourers in most of the villages, meanwhile, self-isolated themselves outside the village limits — on trees, inside trucks or buses and in make-shift shelters — so they don’t infect their family members or other residents.
Quoting a villager, who has self-quarantined himself along with six others on a tree after returning from Chennai where they work as labourers, an ANI report said, “Doctors have told us to stay under home quarantine for 14 days and maintain distance. But in our house, we do not have personal rooms and our villagers discussed that we can stay here.”
He added, “…we will be staying here comfortably maintaining all rules.”
The labourer said they are served breakfast, lunch and dinner on the tree, and water is also available there. “We also have a stove to boil the water and cook food.”
Meanwhile, some migrants even approached the block officers, requesting for isolation, while the villagers have been calling the authorities regularly to give updates on those who are returning from other states.
Sanchita Ghosh, president of Nayagram block panchayat samiti in Jhargram district, said: “Our block has more than 80 per cent of tribal villages. In some areas, they have cordoned off the village entry points. They are guarding the points, checking who all are entering and who are violating the government rules.”
Ghosh said people are mostly staying at home and not loitering around.
“We routinely get calls from them with updates. Moreover, they are calling their relatives who work outside the state, asking them not to return now and stay put wherever they are. This kind of consciousness we are not seeing among the urban population,” she added.
‘Villagers are very cooperative’
Officials said the tribal belt in West Bengal is leading with examples in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have also made isolation arrangements in every block. The villagers are very cooperative. Our team visits them regularly to check on them,” Purulia DM Majumdar said.
He said they have also categorised those people, who have returned from other states, and made a “vulnerability index”.
“Accordingly, we are taking care of all,” he added.
Coronavirus awareness through songs, jingles
In some villages of Birbhum, tribal artistes are spreading awareness about coronavirus and how it spreads by singing jingles and songs.
“We are distributing ration to the tribal villages every day. And the discipline they maintain needs to be seen to be believed. All of them are very poor and under BPL (below poverty level) category. But, unlike in city areas, where people push and shove others to get the packets, the tribal villagers maintain the queue, and do not come out of the circles we had drawn (in front of shops),” said Shyam Singh, Superintendent of Police, Birbhum.
The SP, however, said the blockades at entry-exit points have been removed in some villages of Birbhum.