Notices outside villages announce a ban on their entry. Security guards armed with sticks turn them away. And neighbours let them in only after doctors vouch for their health.
Migrant workers forced to return home due to lack of work, shelter and food are facing the brunt of the national shutdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak with wary villagers in states, such as Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Punjab, resorting to “strict measures” to avoid contact with them.
The state governments have promised assistance in the form of relief camps and medical help. But on the ground, the workers returning on foot — inter-state public transport has been shut down — are facing fear and mistrust along the way and at home.
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In Bihar, a day after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked other states to help them, Additional Secretary (Home) Amir Subhani said: “We issued a circular to all district magistrates to make arrangements for migrants not being allowed inside their villages. But the villagers are right in doing so. This will also help the government screen suspected cases of COVID-19.”
Officials said they have been receiving calls from panchayat heads to keep the workers under observation. Many villages have posted people at entry points, which are being barricaded with bamboo sticks, they said.
At Ramchua village in Banka district, on the border with Jharkhand, a resident said that a worker returning from Mumbai was allowed in only after doctors convinced residents that he was healthy. “But everyone is keeping a safe distance from him,” said the resident, Sonu Kumar.
In UP, workers returning to Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Gonda, Jaunpur, Bijnor and Kannauj are being made to wait outside for hours till they get tested for the virus.
“Two days ago, around 20 people returned from Panipat (Haryana). They tried to enter forcibly but we called the police. Finally, we let them in after they agreed to get the tests done,” said Nardev Singh, from Jamaluddinpur in Bijnor.
In Jharkhand, notices posted outside Kadma village in Kanke read: “Kripya bahar se aanewale vyakti iss gaon mein pravesh na karein (Outsiders, please do not enter this village)”. Another warned: “Aane par lathi padega (If you come, you will be beaten with sticks)”.
At Chhina in Punjab’s Gurdaspur, where 15 people, including six NRIs and nine others who returned from other states, have been placed under “home quarantine”, notices warn against “outsiders” — and three of five entry points have been barricaded, with four newly hired guards manning the other two.
“I have vowed to ensure that the coronavirus will not enter,” said Panthdeep Singh, 28, sarpanch of Chhina with 302 homes and 1,600 residents.
“We have to pay each guard Rs 350 a day but the priority is to stop outsiders from entering. The guards have to get my permission before allowing anyone to enter, after noting down their details in a register,” he said.
Chhina, incidentally, was selected for the Nanaji Deshmukh Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar and Deen Dayal Upadhyay Panchayat Sashaktikaran Puraskar in 2019 for development work.
Since the lockdown began, a notice pasted outside the village, in Punjabi, read: “In view of the coronavirus outbreak, entry of outsiders is completely banned… as per orders of the sarpanch.”
The village is “sanitised every 48 hours” with disinfectant sprayed on streets, poles, benches, and even door knobs. Another notice outside homes asks others not to visit. “Not just NRIs, but villagers working in other states such as Delhi, J&K, Maharashtra and Chennai have returned and are being kept in isolation,” Panthdeep said.
“A vegetable seller is allowed every day. He wears a mask and uses a hand sanitiser, and villagers are called in turns. We are providing grocery items to 118 families of daily wagers, and if the lockdown is extended, we will start providing them cooked food,” he said. “But the restrictions on outsiders will continue as long as the corona threat is there.”
— (With Abhishek Angad/Ranchi)
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