By Kshitiz Gaur
Ajmer, May 30 ((IANS/101Reporters) Unfazed by the increasing spread of Covid-19 and related deaths, the rural folks in Rajasthan are relying on superstitions and crude practices of quackery, instead of health experts and medical help. Worse still, many people are even against vaccinations because they believe that the pandemic is a curse from God. Many others are influenced by misinformation.
On May 27, Dhapu Bai Gemati (70) of Baghelo Ka Kheda village in Bhilwara district hid from her family for five hours after slipping away from the vaccination centre in Kiratpura. Passerbys, who initially thought they had stumbled upon a dead body, found her hiding in the bushes. When they discovered her, she begged with folded hands asking not to be vaccinated, claiming it would kill her. She was shaking with fear when the sarpanch came and talked her into going back home. Her relatives said they will bring her back for vaccination after some counselling.
Even as the people of Dantra Dhani village in Bhilwara district believe that hanging shoes at the façades of their houses will ward off the “evil spirits”, those in Lachchipura village of Ajmer are keeping campfires alive throughout the night to please their village deities in hope that they would protect their lives. Similar is the situation in Nagaur, Bhilwara, and Tonk districts of the state, where the villagers infected with Covid-19 are turning to priests and quacks. Because of the dearth, or even complete lack, of medical facilities in some of these areas, the administration is unable to create awareness among these people about seeking proper medical help in case of diseases.
Also, the faith in traditions is so deep-rooted in the minds of people that all efforts by the district administrations to prevent them from gathering for rituals and functions are proving fruitless.
In Sagariya village of Bhilwara district, more than 100 people gathered in the first week of May to perform the last rites of an 80-year-old man, defying the lockdown and flouting restrictions that specify that no more than 20 persons should be present at a funeral. “
The people fled when they saw us. We seized 15 vehicles from the spot,” said Bhagirath Singh, the SHO of Shahpura police station.
However, the relatives of the deceased once again defied orders and organised a community feast later, which was also attended by a large gathering as a mark of unity.
A similar incident was reported from Ajmer, where some members of the Koli community organised a grand funeral in the city’s Dhola Bhata area for a person who died of Covid-19. This, when on average, four Covid–related deaths are reported from the area every day.
“We had appealed to the people to desist from organising functions or rituals that involve the gathering of people, but in vain. Hence, we have requested the authorities to take stringent steps to prevent such gatherings,” said Lalit Verma, a former corporator from Dhola Bhata.
Verma said the district administration and the police should strictly enforce the state government order banning marriage functions till June 30.
“It is a major challenge to prevent marriages held in villages on the occasion of the Akha Teej. A large number of weddings are held in May because the month is considered auspicious for marriages. We have taken steps to prevent such functions and avoid gathering of crowds,” said Chinmaya Gopal, the district collector of Tonk, who has ordered around 60 families who had planned marriage functions to cancel their plans.
“Social gatherings and marriage functions are the major sources of Covid-19 spread in the rural regions of Nagaur. Many positive cases from these areas have been referred to our hospital,” said Anil Jain, superintendent of JLN Hospital in Ajmer.
A major hurdle before the Rajasthan government in containing the spread of the virus is the deep-rooted traditions and superstitions in the minds of rural people.
In Dantra village of Bhilwara district, a tribal area with only 3,000 residents, 28 Covid–related deaths were reported in a span of 30 days. Yet, the villagers refuse to take vaccinations against the virus — they believe that hanging shoes on the facades of their houses would keep the “evil spirits” at bay, and that quacks, who often use crude practices such as searing their skins with hot iron rods, could cure the disease.
“We have launched an awareness programme and are trying to convince people to take medical help,” said C.L. Sharma, the sub-divisional officer of Asind block of Bhilwara.
The district administration has so far sealed three clinics run by quacks in Pushkar town and Bhilwara. Raids to nab more such practitioners are on in Jahajpur, Mandal, Badnore, and Asind areas. In the first half of May alone, eight Covid-19 patients, who were initially treated by quacks, were admitted to Mahatma Gandhi Hospital at Bhilwara.
Even as the government machinery and the medical fraternity wage a war to protect people from contracting the virus, some religious leaders are putting more hurdles in their way. One Prem Agarwal at the Siddheshwar Peeth of Jhanki Wale Balaji recently told the devotees that reciting Hanuman Chalisa 11,000 times within 15 days could contain the spread of the virus in Rajasthan. This has prompted thousands of people across the state to congregate at temples and homes to chant the Chalisa, thus increasing the risk of more people contracting the virus.
(The author is an Ajmer-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)