Horrors of a Covid-19 hotspot

Residents fear hunger and coronavirus equally


May 21, 2020

/ By / Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

covid 19 hotspot

Staying within the bounds: When the hotspot was declared the lanes in Bajaj Colony were barricaded by the authorities, with bamboo poles, making sure residents don’t step out (MIG Photos/Varsha Singh)

One of the biggest challenges since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic is faced by those living inside a hotspot or containment zone.

The first sign that you are approaching a danger zone is the presence of a police picket just as you turn off the main road and go towards Mukund Nagar, a large locality in central Ahmednagar. But this is not the danger zone. That is another kilometre away. Here, each lane and by-lane has been barricaded by the authorities, with bamboo poles serving as effective barriers. Though it is relatively late in the evening, dozens of locals are out on the streets, resting by the barricades, playing with the children or simply talking with their neighbours. The criss-crossing lanes that run parallel and perpendicular, give the appearance of an intricate maze to the entire locality.

Welcome to Bajaj Colony. A lower middle class cluster that is home to about 250 families, living in small houses that are little better than slums. Most of the persons living here earn their livelihood as daily wage earners. Their routine and mundane life was turned upside down about a month ago, when Bajaj Colony became the first hotspot and a containment zone in western Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district when about three dozen positive cases of Covid-19 were detected in the colony that comprises of small houses clubbed together in very narrow, congested and poorly-lit lanes and by-lanes that criss-cross the entire colony.

Of the persons detected with the virus, 29 were foreigners and six Indians. They had all participated in a spiritual gathering organised by Tableeghi Jamaat, a group of Islamic preachers at Nizamuddin in New Delhi in mid-March. According to a senior police official, since returning from New Delhi, the persons had been moving around not only in different homes inside the colony, but also travelled to other parts of the district, notably Jamkhed and Sangamner.

The detection of such a large number of cases in a single colony led to immediate action by the district administration that declared Bajaj Colony a containment zone and a hot spot and a curfew was declared to ensure that the people stayed indoors and did not move out unnecessarily. The suddenness of the entire development caught most of the residents of Bajaj Colony on the wrong foot as few had any provisions for food and other essential items, including medicines, and the rapid pace at which events unfolded unnerved many residents, especially those who had to buy medicines for themselves or their families.

“My husband is paralysed and my two sons are out of work. We don’t have food to eat. I can’t even get his medicines or take him to the hospital for his usual check-up. If this lockdown continues for another month how will we survive? The government is not helping us at all,” says Tahira Aslam Qureshi, a resident of Bajaj Colony.

For most the residents the curfew that followed weeks of a lockdown had made the situation far worse as it meant even the basic essential goods like shops selling vegetables, groceries and even medicines in the locality were ordered to be closed with the government taking charge of distribution of the essential commodities in the entire area. Even though several charities joined hands with the government to distribute food and rations in the area, many residents claim they never received anything and that the distribution of the items was more for publicity than anything else.

“We have only heard that food was being distributed here, but never got it. Even our neighbours did not receive anything. Most of the leaders just wanted to publicise themselves and indulged in PR exercises rather than any real relief,” says Sana Salim Khan, who is mother to a special child.

“I am a daily wager but for two months I have had no work. Whatever money we had its all gone now but we don’t see any help from the government’s side. We are supporting the government but they should also support us. Even if they have to extend the lockdown they have to help us prepare. The slum areas need special attention of the government,” says a 30-year-old Asim Sheikh.

Not only are the people unhappy due to the current lockdown but many are angry because of how inefficiently the government has implemented the lockdown, with indefinite extensions.

“It’s a good thing that the authorities decided to seal the entire area to prevent further spread. However, it has affected the colony in several other ways. Majority of the people in this locality are daily wagers and because of the lockdown they have no source of income. Even though the municipality is getting food items for us but most of them don’t have money to buy it. Whatever provisions the government is coming up with is just on paper and for the press. In reality most of the people don’t get anything. The situation is same almost everywhere. If this continues people might die of hunger first. Has the government ever tried to find out how an ordinary man is trying to live here? It’s very easy for them to keep on extending the lockdown but are they even considering what difficulties the common man has to face because of this,” says Arshad Sheikh who works as an architect and also does some social work through Peace Foundation.

Subsequently, life in Bajaj Colony has eased with the end of curfew and gradual return to normalcy. The police say they tried to help the residents during the curfew by even getting their medicines. “There may have been some cases where medicine delivery was delayed, but we have tried our best to address the most urgent needs of the people living in Bajaj Colony. We have also tied up with some NGOs for distribution of food and medicines,” says a senior police official. While the authorities may have done a good job in limiting the spread of the virus in the colony and the neighbourhood as well as in contact tracing, Bajaj Colony and other hotspots in the country do offer opportunities for the government to draw lessons for itself to ensure that its relief measures are much more responsive and well-targetted in the future.



    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *