Zarina Screwvala is the Co-founder of the Swades Foundation & works full time as its Managing Trustee & Director. The Swades Foundation operates with the single-minded focus of empowering rural India through a holistic 360-degree development model. Zarina is a member of the UN Women Business Sector Advisory Council (BSAC). She was also one of the Founder-Directors of UTV (now a part of the Walt Disney Company India), one of India’s foremost media and entertainment conglomerates, where she led the creation and launch of leading broadcast brands including UTV Bindass, UTV Stars, UTV Action and Hungama TV in India and the children’s channel Astro Ceria in Indonesia & Malaysia.
Everyone is talking about the impact of Covid-19, from the national perspective or urban-centric perspective. Not much has been spoken about the impact of Covid-19 on rural India. More than 68 percent of India lives in its villages.
In rural India, most communities are severely impacted, primarily due to the loss of daily wages and no savings at hand. For them, feeding their families often depended upon the wages that they earn daily and with the lockdown in play, there is no opportunity for that. Fear, lack of awareness, low levels of nutrition, poor resources, and various other factors add to these issues, especially now. The risk of spread in rural areas is intense due to lack of awareness and ill-equipped and insufficient health infrastructure.
Besides the loss of jobs and wages, another major impact of Covid-19 in the rural sector is on agriculture—lack of transportation and inability to access markets to sell produce is forcing many farmers to sell their crops cheaper, settle with lower profits or in some instance, a total loss.
Is there a solution?
I believe there is: An empowered rural India.
When Nathuram Pandurang Kodere, a lead farmer—one who helps us train other farmers—from Tala block of Raigad district couldn't sell his green chillies due to the nationwide lockdown, he carved out an opportunity. He dried all the chillies, which now will have a longer shelf life, and also fetch him better profits than the fresh chilies. He hopes to make anywhere between Rs 180 to Rs 220 per kg.
However, the most important aspect here, besides the extra money he will make this year, is that he is now introduced to ways to enhance profits; that will differentiate him as a progressive farmer going forward. Being a lead farmer, the experience that he gained will also benefit other farmers around him.
Similarly, about 44 women across Mahad and Mangaon blocks who were part of self help groups (SHGs) started to struggle with their businesses due to the lockdown. To diversify, they moved from sewing bags to stitching masks and found markets with wholesalers, Zilla Parishad Health Departments and within the community, earning anywhere between Rs 2 to Rs 5 net profit per mask. They are making about 1,000 masks each month.
Many such examples from the hinterland are inspiring tales of resilience. The other face of rural India is where people come together and act with responsibility to ensure that the lockdown has limited impact on lives around them.
For example, the Village Development Committees (VDC), formed of a group of people from the village (with equal representation of women) took it upon themselves to manage this crisis. They played a vital role in containing the coronairus by barricading entry and exit points to prevent visitors. They also supported needy households within their villages by providing food and dry ration.
They used the services of Swades Mitras (a cadre of community health workers) to build awareness and ensure social distancing, usage of masks etc. Swades Mitras, a cadre that was conceived to improve the health-seeking behaviour of the community played an important role in the overall management of this crisis. Along with VDCs, they are monitoring public movement within the village, screening people who show symptoms and reporting those with symptoms to the Primary Health Centre for further diagnosis.
Here is Sneha Murkar, a Swades Mitra and an ASHA worker from the Shrivardhan block in Raigad, maintaining the health status of the members of the households. She has been provided with a medical kit by the Gram Panchayat, which includes basic medicines, HB machine for testing of anaemia, as well as blood sugar and BP measuring devices.
She is supporting the community surveillance process and does regular visits to check migrants who return home, requesting them to self-quarantine. She continues to monitor those who are in self-quarantine. She also does hand-washing training for children and villagers and is positively influencing the community members to build awareness and maintain hygiene for Covid-19.
The crisis, unfortunately is not over yet; but the way in which rural India has stepped up and responded to it, it won’t be an exaggeration to say they are coping up with the situation equally or better that their urban counterpart. We are inspired every day by their examples.
The writer is the co-founder, managing trustee and director of the Swades Foundation