A confluence of factors — hundreds of migrant workers, students and others returning to villages from metro cities, the government’s instructions to keep them in institutional quarantine for 14 days and unwillingness shown by some entrants to comply with the instructions — is causing frictions within village communities.
This, locals and officials say, is leading to arguments and, in some cases, leading to resurfacing of old caste-based or political animosities.
Several FIRs registered have been registered in various parts of the state over arguments on the ‘quarantining of returning migrants’. In fact, Pune Police Commissioner K Venkatesham has even advised students from Pune city to avoid going back to their villages as they might face trouble and harassment at the hands of locals.
“We have received feedback from those who went back to their villages recently that local residents are not treating them well and they had to face a lot of trouble due to quarantine rules. That’s why we are advising students, who are in Pune, that they should remain here and study rather than go back and face avoidable trouble,” said Venkatesham.
Meanwhile, a number of criminal offences have been registered in villages over incidents caused due to the dispute arising out of returning migrants and instructions on institutional quarantine.
On May 18, a First Information Report was registered in Nila village in Parbhani district against over a dozen men who physically assaulted a Dalit Sarpanch for allegedly giving preferential treatment to a lower-caste family while quarantining them.
On May 9, in Shirur Kasar village in Beed district, the father of a Dalit man was assaulted by a group of upper-caste residents after the man – a member of the Vigilance Committee – decided to send two upper-caste families to ‘institutional quarantine facility’ upon their return from Aurangabad – about 125 km away from Beed.
Subhash Waghmare, the Dalit victim, told police that they threatened to kill his family before slapping him in the village market. According to him, his attackers said, “Why did your son send us to quarantine? There are only two houses of your community in the village. We will finish you off!”
Rahul Gangarde, who works as a gram sevak (Panchayat secretary) in Ahmednagar district’s Partner taluka, said that caste tensions, political skirmishes and physical scuffles over quarantining returning migrants has become a daily affair. “It’s a major headache for us. It’s triggering old rivalries over land disputes and we are busy with resolving those, rather than working on taking preventing measures…,” he said.
Gangarde added that government workers involved in containing the infection were also facing the wrath of some local residents. “Even public workers such as health department staffers, Asha workers and Anganwadi sevikas are being targeted by residents, who hold a grudge against them for informing the administration about a returning migrant,” he said.
A block development officer (BDO) from Akola District said the primary issue faced by local administrations at panchayat level was lack of facilities to accommodate the incoming migrants for two weeks.
“In most villages, the public buildings include a primary school, a samaj mandir or a health centre. Many of these don’t even have fans or any other amenity. That’s why people refuse to stay there. Also, supply of food becomes a major problem, especially when an entire family is institutionally quarantined. Sending them home and quarantining there is much easier but then people don’t follow instructions at home,” said the BDO.
According to officials, almost every district in Marathwada or Vidarbha has received about 80,000 to 1 lakh migrants returning from Pune, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Nashik and Nagpur.