While the world was busy tackling tensions between the globalization of world economy, increased borrowing by banks and investors, regulation and policy errors, global education poverty, etc, very silently at the end of 2019 an enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA virus with a structural image reminiscent of the ‘solar corona’ shook the whole world.
The crisis has reached such an extent that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the situation a pandemic. A new strain called Novel Coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans has evolved. The COVID 19 strain which surfaced in a Chinese seafood and poultry market in Wuhan late last year, has now spread to more than 210 countries killing more than 1,08,862 and sickening more than one million in a just 1-2 months.
According to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, a total of 8356 COVID-19 cases, have been reported in 31 states/union territories across India. On 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown: “In order to protect the country, and each of its citizens, from midnight tonight, a complete ban is being imposed on people from stepping out of their homes.” Massive quarantine of people having travel histories, hospital isolation and treatment of all confirmed cases, tracing and home quarantine of doubtful cases, sanitization of public places is ongoing. A separate Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) has been set up. Aarogya Nidhi has been reactivated and so on.
Meanwhile, silent, selfless and commendable service that the women Self Help Group (SHG) members across India have shown during this global crisis is indeed a matter of inspiration for all. The ‘Face Masks’, which is the first shield against current COVID 19 is in short supply. As per the report of the ministry of rural development, more than 132 lakh masks have been produced by 14,522 SHGs involving 65,936 members in 399 districts, spread across 24 states of India, in just a period of 15 days from March 15 to March 30, 2020; the count is still ongoing.
The contribution of SHG members across Assam is also no less. Even during this mayhem, they have been at the forefront of understanding the outbreak, getting aware and trained to aware fellowmen, prevent and break the chain of the deadly disease. More than one lakh SHG members along with 2455 community cadres are relentlessly creating awareness amongst rural mass on dos and don’ts of the outbreak. More than 13029 villages have been covered by them where awareness on lockdown modalities, wearing mask, hand washing and social distancing imparted covering 5,95,709 households. More than 2000 SHG members are engaged in the production of the homemade cotton masks (as per specification forwarded by the Govt.). They are coordinating with district administration for sale and free distribution of these sterilized masks. Till yesterday, 139,241 nos. of masks have been produced, out of which 15,120 nos. masks distributed for free and 91,618 nos. sold at a very marginal rate.
These unstoppable rural women have also been able to supply 214 tonne of vegetables, 19113 litres milk, 16930 eggs, 81 tonne meat and 13 tonne fish during a span of fifteen- twenty days.
We don’t need to have deep pockets or be rich to help the needy; we need to have a heart. And such examples have been set by these SHG members. An amount of Rs. 4,11,600/- so far has been contributed by them towards Assam Aarogya Nidhi & PM CARES Fund. With their limited capacity and without any imposing factor, they are unanimously coming forward and contributing food (basic rice, pulses, oil, salt, potato), sanitizing materials (soap, phenyl, Dettol etc.) to the needy and vulnerable. They are working in close coordination with various departments including health, revenue, police, pharmacies, Gram Panchayats, Zilla Parishad and Banks also. Business Correspondent Agents amongst them are providing last-mile doorstep service to provide required financial transactions and many more such stories can be enumerated.
When authorities & administrations, medical experts & doctors, home & police, researchers and scientists are contributing their share during this global crisis, history will nevertheless certainly mention these SHG members and their priceless efforts for the greater interest of the rural mass at large. Their confidence and dedication remind us of Mark Anthony quoting,
“And one day she discovered
that she was fierce,
and full of fire,
and that not even she could hold herself back
because her passion
burned brighter than her fears.”
Note: The Author is a Social Columnist and State Project Manager, ASRLM and based in Guwahati, Assam.