Gobinda Debnath spent Rs 30,000 out of his pocket to hire a car and two days on the road to reach his residence in Tripura’s Agartla. However, much to the 37-year-old daily wager’s dismay, his family did not allow him to enter the house even after he tested negative for Covid-19 and spent a day at a quarantine centre.
“My wife, my child are telling me to go away. What can I say,” a dejected Gobinda told reporters outside the home.
He lives with his wife Mampi Debnath, his young daughter, and in-laws in a small flat allotted to his mother-in-law Bhanu Das under a government housing scheme for the poor.
Back in March, shortly before the nationwide lockdown was announced, Gobinda went to visit his brother-in-law in Silapathar in Assam. His father-in-law also joined him but did not make the return trip.
Tired of waiting for the lockdown to be lifted, he decided to hire a vehicle to reach Tripura. As per the standard operating procedure, he was tested for coronavirus and sent to a quarantine centre near Churaibari, the first checkpost on the Tripura-Assam inter-state boundary.
After testing negative, he was escorted by the police to his residential complex in Joynagar, where he received a cold welcome. Debnath feels his wife might have been put under pressure by other residents.
“They might have disturbed her in some way. Obviously she wouldn’t want me to go away. I feel my wife was just afraid, our child was crying. I don’t know what to say,” he said.
His wife, however, dismissed it saying she wants to protect her sick mother and young daughter.
“My husband went to Assam. I asked him not to come back now but he came nonetheless. I stay at my mother’s flat in this complex. How can I allow him stay here? I have a young daughter and my mother is ill. She underwent an operation some time back. I can’t stay put at home for 14 days. I have to do domestic chores. Please take him to a quarantine centre. After staying there for 14 days and getting whatever treatment is required, he can come back,” she said.
Some of the neighbours, who had by now gathered on a small lawn-cum-approach road of the complex, tried to defend her.
“He went to Assam. We don’t know where he stayed there. We heard he came in a vehicle hired with Rs. 30 thousand. We don’t know anyone travelled with him. The police has come to escort him back home. Even if he was tested negative, what if he somehow shows signs of the disease in next 14 days? We want him to stay at a quarantine center for 2 weeks and come back”, Dulali Saha, one of the residents of the complex said.
Debnath’s case sheds light on growing insensitivity and stigmatisation associated with coronavirus in Tripura. Faced with similar cases of prejudice and social boycott, the state administration has been struggling to sensitise people.
West Tripura District Health Surveillance Officer Dr. Sangeeta Chakraborty said many who live in the complex didn’t maintain social distancing by gathering in large numbers to prevent Debnath from entering his flat.
“They are violating social distancing regulations themselves. The police has been trying to convince them but they are stubborn. We have no other option but to temporarily shift him (Gobinda) to a quarantine facility here,” she said.
She also said some of them were inebriated and misbehaved with healthcare personnel who came to assist him.
Stranded outside his own home, Debnath was eventually shifted to a small quarantine center set up at State Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development complex near Agartala late night.