For the past five days, seven youths at Bhangdi village in West Bengal’s Purulia district are living on the branches of a tree outside their village. Read in Malayalam
Bamboo sticks have been used to tie wooden cots to the branches, about 8-10 feet from the ground. Each cot is covered by a plastic sheet and a mosquito net. The tree also has lights and plug points where the youths can charge their phones. They have been given masks too. The youths climb down only to relieve themselves, wash their clothes and when food is served thrice a day.
These seven youths, all of them migrant workers, have been living on the tree ever since they returned from Chennai at a time when COVID-19 infections in the country are on the rise. After doctors asked them to stay under home quarantine, villagers made arrangements on the mango tree.
“We spend most of our time on the tree. We climb down to use the toilet, wash clothes and when food is served. This has been done so that we are in complete isolation and do not become a risk to anyone in the village. We are abiding by what the villagers have told us to do,” Bijoy Singh Laya, 24, told The Sunday Express over the phone.
According to Laya, all of them worked at an auto parts shop in Chennai. They boarded a train and reached Kharagpur last Sunday. From there, they took a bus to Purulia and then a vehicle to Balarampur.
The youths, all of them aged between 22 and 24 years, said they were aware of the scare surrounding the COVID-19 spread and decided to go to the police station before entering the village.
“We first went to Balarampur police station. The officers heard us and sent us to a local hospital. At the hospital, doctors noted down our names and numbers. They said we need to stay in isolation for 14 days,” said Bimal Singh Sardar.
“When we were about to enter the village, the villagers stopped us. They said they did not want to take any chances and made arrangements on a mango tree outside the village,” said Sardar.
The plastic sheet covering each cot is a protection against rain. There is a separate space where the youths can relieve themselves and another area for washing clothes.
“We do not want them to enter the village. During the isolation period, they may spread the virus to family members or to others in the village. We have small rooms and proper isolation is not possible there. We have made proper arrangements on the tree and are providing them with everything they need,” said a villager.
“Our clothes were not allowed inside, nor were other clothes given. We wash our clothes daily. Washing powder has been provided from the village,” said Dinobandhu Singh Sardar.
The youths have been given separate utensils. Their family members bring food to them three times a day.
“Care is taken that no one touches us. Safe distance is maintained even when food is served in the utensils,” said Laya.
Villagers keep a watch on the youths round the clock.
The youths said they stayed in a rented room in Chennai and each would earn Rs 500 a day.
“Payment is due on the tenth of the month and since we left before that, the owner did not pay us. We frantically wanted to come home and just left…We are happy that we are near our home, even if we are on a tree. After 14 days, we will meet our families,” said Dinobandhu.
Family members of the seven youth have supported the villagers. “We have small rooms and many family members. I am not sure whether proper isolation is possible here. They are on a tree now. Authorities should make a better arrangement,” said Laya’s brother Judhistir.
“The panchayat and the administration are trying to find a place, maybe a government building, where they can be kept in isolation,” said Nitai Mondol, president of Balarampur Panchayat Samiti under which the village falls.
Shantiram Mahato, TMC MLA from Balarampur and state minister for Western Region Development Minister, said, “We are saying that all who come from outside the state, including migrant workers, should practise self-isolation. All those who show symptoms are admitted to hospitals. This area is near Ayodhya pahar and such machans are not uncommon. People build them to look out for elephants. I have heard the news. Let us see what can be done.”