India’s rural areas & small towns less weary of COVID-19 fear

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By Rajeev Sharma

NEW DELHI, 15 June 2020: Strange are the ways of Coronavirus, but equally strange are the reactions to this deadly pandemic. Compared to those living in big Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai, where an ordinary cough or sore throat often triggers panic in the vicinity, people living in India’s villages and small towns show no such fear. To understand this phenomenon, the India Correspondent of South Asia Times (SAT), Rajeev Sharma took stock of the situation in a few far-flung, away-from-the-big-cities areas like 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, Chapra of Bihar, and Rai Bareilly and Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. At Lakhimpur Kheri, the predominantly agriculture belt of Uttar Pradesh, Dr. Amit Tiwari has been running his clinic. In fact, it was his father who had set up the clinic before India’s Independence.

Even when large scale fear gripped several big cities of India after the onset of Corona, Dr. Amit Tiwari of Lakhimpur Kheri regularly opened his clinic. Most of the time said the unruffled Dr. Tiwari, this area remained in the Green Zone (that is, not unduly affected by Corona). For some period, the region did come under the Orange Zone, which is considered a bit risky by a few notches, but the situation was ably handled by the district magistrate Shailendra Singh.

As Dr. Tiwari recalled, “The district administration of Lakhimpur Kheri collected 2,989 samples for Corona testing; out of these, 137 were found positive. It’s pertinent to note that the maximum Corona patients arrived here from outside the district. About 55 kilometers from, an area is known as Dharora accounted for the maximum Corona cases and this was promptly declared a hot spot and sealed. Bahraich, another place near the district, also saw some cases. But in Lakhimpur Kheri, the situation by and large remained unaffected by the virus.’’

A few cases pointed out, Dr. Tiwari, did trickle from localities such as Hidayat Nagar, Naurangabad, Ram Nagar and Durgapur, and some from Sitapur. “But these patients recovered over time. The good thing is that people started following Government guidelines, and they also started appreciating the value of hygiene,’’ said the doctor with a satisfied smile.

Dr. Jamil Farooqui is another noteworthy Corona Warrior. The famous doctor of Rai Bareilly, he did not close down his clinic even for a single day. On the contrary, he kept it open for up to 14 hours a day, not refusing any patient exhibiting Corona symptoms. Such is the faith placed in Dr. Farooqui that many people living in the far flung areas would start walking early in the morning, even at 4 am to reach his clinic after a grueling six hour walk.

A strict instruction has been passed to the staff of Dr. Farooqui to not only accept all the patients into the clinic, but also to make them feel at home. “This is the least I can do for the tired people who come to me from far flung areas,’’ said Dr Farooqui, insisting that it was important to arrest the atmosphere of fear.

“The Government,’’ he said, “should start publicizing the recovery rates and recovered Corona patients. This brings back the confidence in the masses. Interestingly, I have seen the fear of Corona more among the educated people; they are the ones who seem most rattled.’’

Yet another hub of battle against corona is situated in the Madhyamgram region of West Bengal’s 24 Pargana district. And this battle ground is the clinic of Dr. Monaoranjan Banerjee. Interestingly, Dr. Manoranjan has been the assistant of late Dr Prasanta Banerji, an internationally known cancer specialist. Dr Shantasree Sengupta, who is working tirelessly in this clinic, divulged that generally people do not like to speak much about their condition. “But the big positive is that so far, not a single death has been reported from the region,’’ said Dr. Sengupta.

Now one thing which no television channel would tell anybody is the TV channels themselves are instrumental- to some extent at least- in spreading fear and panic among the people. Dr. Subodh Singh, who runs his clinic in the Chapra area of Bihar, hammers this point. “People are not as scared and panicky as is being shown on the television screens. In fact, I have been telling my patients to watch less TV for the sake of their own sanity. If at all you have to watch something, watch comedy serials. This will lighten up your mood, and will be beneficial for you,’’ he said.

Dr. Amit Tiwari of Lakhimpur Kheri too emphasized the point: if you don’t want to lose your mental balance, watch less news.

But will we really learn? As I write this report from my home in Delhi, I can hear our middle-aged neighbor screaming at his wife, “will you please switch on a news channel. I want to know the latest on Corona.’’ Some habits die hard, perhaps harder in big cities.

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