Julana/Kaithal: In the last one month, 63 people have died of Covid-like symptoms across 30 villages in Julana block of Haryana’s Jind district, and many others have fallen sick.
Julana, with a population of 26,000 people, mostly farmers, has been a significant participant in the ongoing anti-farm law protest at the Tikri border between Haryana and Delhi, and despite the health crisis, continues to send at least 15 residents to the site every week on rotation.
This, authorities say, has become one of the “major reasons for the spread of Covid-19 in rural Haryana”.
But the farmers’ fear of losing their livelihoods because of the Narendra Modi government’s three farm laws passed last year is bigger than the fear of dying of Covid-19, which is why they have been protesting for the last six months.
For them, the coronavirus is nothing but a “conspiracy by the government” to weaken and break their protest.
“They are screaming ‘corona, corona’ to suppress us and finish the protest,” Narender Dhanda, member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a large farmers’ body, said.
“No virus, no disease can dissuade or break us. We will sit at that protest site even till 2024, if need be. This virus is nothing but a conspiracy to break us. They are trying to scare us, because they want us all to be in isolation and leave the ground, but we will not let that happen,” he said.
“We are protesting for our livelihood. We fear losing that; we don’t fear death. If they do not take back the farm laws, we will anyway die, so why should any virus deter us? The day government takes back these laws, we will return home,” Dhanda added.
Border protests are super-spreaders, says DGP
Farmers from across villages and districts in Haryana have fixed a weekly ‘duty roster’ for their travel to the protest sites at Delhi’s borders. Every week, a group of 10 leaves the villages. Once they return home, another set of 10 people replace them at the border.
However, Haryana’s Director General of Police Manoj Yadav said borders like Tikri and Kundli are becoming super-spreaders and affecting villages.
“A group of 10 farmers go to these borders every week and return to the village. After they return, the next batch leaves. They have not stopped despite such fast spread in infection and growing number of deaths, and have created (Covid) hotspots,” Yadav told ThePrint.
After authorities noticed an abnormal rise in deaths across these villages, the Haryana Police collected data in areas from where the farmers were constantly traveling to the protest sites in Delhi and back.
According to the data, from 11 April to 10 May, 189 people died across 13 villages in Sonepat, from where five to six farmers from each village have been traveling to the borders. Similarly, Jhajjar has recorded 116 deaths across nine villages, while in Hisar, 114 have died across nine villages, and in Rohtak, 73 in just three villages.
“When we saw an abnormal rise in deaths in the rural parts of Haryana, we collected data from these areas and found that the farmers are playing a role in spreading this infection. Increased number of deaths from Covid-like symptoms are being reported from villages from where many of the farmers continue to visit the borders,” DGP Yadav said.
He added that to ensure that infected people from borders do not return to the villages, authorities also tried to set up testing camps at Tikri, which falls under Jhajjar district, and Kundli, which falls under Sonepat. But the farmers refused to give samples.
“Our main concern is that the deaths are rising in villages. To stop that, the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police tried to put up testing camps in the vicinity of the borders, to test the farmers returning to villages. The idea was to stop them if they were infected, so that they do not spread the infection back home. However, they did not let the tests happen,” Yadav said.
“In fact, farmers’ leaders issued diktats to them saying no one should get tested. Is that responsible behaviour?”
Yadav accepted that there could be other reasons for rise in deaths, as many village residents also commute to Delhi and back, but said the “constant movement” that is putting villagers at risk is the farmers’ to and from the borders.
Virus ‘a conspiracy’
Farmers, meanwhile, are convinced that the coronavirus is nothing but a conspiracy.
Ram Meher Singh, a farmer in Pai village of Kaithal district, believes that Covid-19 is nothing but the government’s ploy to “divert attention from its failures like dipping economy”, and to “crush the farmer’s protest”.
The rising deaths in villages, he said, are due to “viral fever, cancer and “panic induced by authorities”.
Singh, who is unaware of the different protocol used to cremate people who of die of Covid-19, alleged that even natural deaths are being counted as Covid deaths to spread panic, and the bodies are not even returned to families for them to examine if the person actually died of the infection.
“I went to Delhi for a week, stayed there, went around three borders, I am very much alive. Why did nothing happen to me? This is utter fraud by the government. It is a conspiracy to spread fear among the people, and divert their attention from government’s failures like the low GDP (growth),” he said.
“Even natural deaths are being counted as Covid deaths to spread panic. Someone dies in the village, they declare him Covid positive, and do not even return the body. How would we know if that person actually died of Covid or not? It’s all a fraud,” the farmer added.
Dhanda, the BKU leader quoted above, is one of many who is opposed to getting vaccination for the coronavirus. He said it would mean falling sick, or even dying, which would weaken the farmers’ movement.
“If we take the injection, our andolan will weaken. Whoever has taken the injection has either fallen sick, had fever, landed in the hospital, or died. We cannot take that risk. If we reach the hospital, who will sit on the dharna? These injections too are a way to make us sick, and move us from the border,” he said.
Vijay Pal, another member of the BKU, added that the coronavirus is nothing but a “man ka veham (figment of imagination)”.
“This illness is imaginary. There is no treatment for figments of the imagination. We are people who eat fresh desi ghee, drink cow’s milk, and are strong. No virus can touch an andolankari (protestor),” Pal said.
But their attitude concerns medical professionals, who blame the surging number of cases in villages to this ignorance.
One such government sector professional from Julana told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “There is so much ignorance. The villagers do not believe in this virus, even when so many of them are dying of it. They are reluctant to get tested because they feel they will be declared positive and isolated. They move around without masks, do not use sanitisers, and do not take any precautions because they think coronavirus is imaginary. It gets very frustrating for us.”
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
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