On March 22, as part of the Janata Curfew — the 14-hour lockdown announced by the Prime Minister to arrest the spread of COVID-19 — the mess at Nihal Gautam’s hostel was shut. “I ate biscuits and Maggi the entire day. I thought the lockdown was only for a day and that the shops and services would open the next day,” says the 17-year-old student of Resonance Coaching Institute in Rajasthan’s Kota city.
However, on the same day, the Rajasthan government announced a complete lockdown in the state that has so far recorded 32 positive cases, and all of Gautam’s plans fell flat. “I was supposed to take an overnight bus to Delhi and then a flight from there to Patna. But the borders were shut and I couldn’t go,” he says.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, most of Kota’s 1.5 lakh outstation students left the country’s coaching hub to return to their hometowns or find accommodations near their exam centres. However, Kota District Magistrate Om Prakash Kasera says with trains, flights and buses getting cancelled, approximately 30,000-35,000 students continue to live in the city.
Kota has reported no positive case so far.
“The IIT-JEE exam has been postponed and so I wanted to return home. Our course is finished, classes ended on March 15, everything is shut… I have been staying indoors and studying all day now. It’s been two days and there has been no food,” Gautam said.
DM Kasera says that while the shutdown decision was last minute, the administration is now taking necessary steps to ensure students and residents are comfortable. “We have set up zone-wise helpline numbers for students. Food, hostel and travel teams have also been constituted, and we are also planning to open ration shops from 12-6 pm every day,” says Kasera, adding that most of the calls on the helpline numbers have been regarding food.
The student welfare committee of Allen coaching centre — one of the biggest in Kota with about one lakh outstation students — is working with the district administration on taking calls from students and providing them food. “Around 50 of our staff members are involved in this. Some take calls while the others collect and deliver food. We don’t have a kitchen. We have asked all hostels to prepare 10-15 extra packets of food daily. We collect and send it to students. We have been taking lunch and dinner calls for two days now,” says an official of the institute. On Sunday, their teams distributed 1,100 packets of food.
Vipul Kanthali, 18, and his friend were among those who received the meals — a packet of puri aloo. A resident of a village near Indore, he vacated his private hostel on Friday only to find that his bus had been cancelled. “I had nowhere to go. I finally went to a friend’s hostel, but I had to vacate that today… Now, I am going to a village, 90 km away from Kota, to friend’s home,” says the son of a farmer, who has been preparing for the IIT-JEE exams for the past year.
“Since there is no public transport, my friend’s brother is coming to pick us up,” he adds.
While there is fear about the virus, Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point coaching centre, said he believes the students’ schedule will not be disrupted. “The NEET (medical entrance) exams are in May, and we will get the dates for the IIT exams soon. The Class XI and XII students had already left, and most of the courses are complete. Now, we have about 30-35% outstation students left in the city. Most centres, including ours, are providing ‘live’ digital classes for revision and doubts. We have also launched a Career Point app…” he says.
But even as he works to stay on track, Kanthali says can’t help but feel a little scared. “I have been preparing for the entire year. I don’t want anything to go wrong… I just want the pandemic to end,” he says.
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