A movement of tribal Jhabua — that saved 2 million lives!
A movement in tribal Jhabua begins on April 28. It goes at an incredible pace to cover 900+ villages by June 10. 3000+ volunteers across the villages come forward, takes training and reach family-to-family in villages. Jhabua, which stood at a catastrophic collapse around April 28, had a less than 1% infection rate on May 24. The ‘Medical Kit distribution & Awareness’ movement becomes a social movement by the end. What makes all of these possible?
With India reeling under pandemics, we are not even looking towards villages or rural areas in general. And that’s okay, not the first time or unexpected, as this is how we have been developing for a long.
But what can an organization working in the rural tribal areas, with panic, rumours and ground reports of 50–60 deaths every day, do? How to respond, well, not just for responding, but to make a difference?
We find an answer in the tribal district of MP — Jhabua. Shivganga Samagra Gramvikas Parishad or Shivganga Jhabua is a social organization working on Holistic Rural Development in Jhabua for 14 years. The team consists of tribal social leaders, village-level volunteers and a supporting layer packed with IIT graduates, medical students and others from different backgrounds.
Somewhere in mid-April, the second wave crashed all over the Indian peninsula. The villages, which were till now considered safe, saw unprecedented mayhem. Shri Rajaram Katara, who oversees all the ground implementation of programs of Shivganga, started receiving calls from all around Jhabua-Aalirajpur. Different villages, different people, with one pain — helplessness and fear.
For no healthcare system globally, it would have been possible to handle 1000+ cases rushed to hospitals every day. Jhabua, which then had just 130 beds with oxygen, was on the brink of catastrophic collapse.
The first step — respond to the urgency.
It was an implausible situation for all of the team members as well. Around April 15, the team tried communicating it to the administration. The team even extended support with human resources and whatever means it could. They had the resources and already existing network envelope, but it fell on deaf ears. Instead, they responded with ‘you know better than us?’ and ‘stay away!’ glance.
When it is happening that 8–10 people you know would not be able to see the morning, you cannot sleep at night. The restlessness was brimming. It was too much to bear and wait.
The team held a meeting on April 25. It didn’t take much discussion to decide that ‘it is our duty, and we must take it on ourselves now’.
The next couple of days were packed with meetings and consultations with medical experts. The villagers couldn’t go to hospitals; even if they could, it would have only worsened the situation than done any good. Hence, the objective was clear — to provide medical assistance right at doorsteps and minimise severe cases as much as possible. Working with medical experts, the team developed a medical kit effective at the mild stage of Covid-19.
Indore, Mumbai, Delhi and Bhopal chapters of ‘Friends of Jhabua’ got into action for fundraising and medicines procurement. Given the lockdown, procurement of medicines wasn’t an easy task. Even the famous Dawa Bazar of Indore stood empty hands for generic drugs like Paracetamol. Here came the role of Shivganga’s urban social capital — a robust network of volunteers, most of them distinguished alums of SGSITS Indore, working together since college days. The volunteers came forward to ensure enough supply of medicines and funds. April 27, Shivganga launched the ‘Support Jhabua to Fight Covid-19’ campaign on its website with an initial target of 10k medical kits.
Meticulous details in planning
Shivganga, unlike other functionaries, is attentive enough to details and knew that just handing the kit to rural people wouldn’t yield anything. The villagers must be able to administer medicines themselves without error and trust the medical kit. Plus, there should always be an optimum stock of kits ready. So Nitin Dhakad — an IIT Roorkee graduate and a full-time volunteer of Shivganga for four years — took the task at hand.
Every leaf of medicine had an outline or filled circle/s behind them — indicating if the medication was to be taken empty stomach or after food and the number of circles meant once or twice a day. To avoid confusion, the same medicine, if not in a single leaf, was clubbed with a gadder and stapler. Every medical kit also contained a slip in easy Hindi with emergency contact numbers.
To maintain the stock of kits, 25–30 volunteers worked day & night at Dharampuri Gurkul, assembling 700–1000 kits daily. In addition, the team prepared a special kit for pregnant and lactating mothers. Again, the details came into play as the team put different colour slips for such kits, making them easy to recognise.
Another deep concern was the safety and health of the volunteers on the ground. They had to take precautions, so even a glass of water in any house was out of the question. Also, the seriousness of the volunteers would impact the families, warning them about the necessary precautions and the gravity of the situation. Hence, every volunteer had a unique kit with N95 and surgical masks. The double mask was an uncompromised rule. The volunteers were also carrying their water and food. In no situation would they allow themselves even for a cup of tea. These measures would ensure that Covid would miss every single volunteer during the entire movement.
Training and hope
Meanwhile, the ground team geared up and planned a training camp on May 1. The training saw 104 villagers participating from across 90 villages. Shri Rajaram Katara, sharing the pain and anguish, took the sessions in the batch of 30. As a social leader, he gave a call that Bhils have the tradition of rescuing people from various local and global crises; hence it was their Dharma to serve humanity in this smothering situation. Further in the session, he discussed the details of the Medical Kit and awareness about preventive measures such as using Kadha, warm water, and food supplements to boost immunity. He discussed every fine detail, from approaching a family to taking precautions while distributing the kits. It was crucial, as this training would travel far-off in the villages in the coming weeks.
The volunteers were on the ground, reaching family-to-family, distributing the kits and taking account of the prevailing condition. It was a fog of fear all around. Every house had one or more members showing symptoms of Covid-19. People were falling like uprooted trees in a storm.
A distant ray of hope started flickering when the team began receiving recovery reports from villages on the third-fourth day of the movement. Following this, the words had spread far by the end of the week. The villagers gained confidence, and now they were asking for the kits or training camp in their village. Those who knew would turn up at the Dharampuri Gurukul for kits for themselves and their aliya(mohalla).
“The medical kit saved my village.”
To maximise the villages covered, the team focused on training camps. In the first ten days, more than 400 volunteers from across 210 villages were already trained and engaged. A significant number of these volunteers were also those who recovered with the same kit. These volunteers’ stories stood as testimony that profoundly impacted people, allowing them to be much more assured about their recovery. The experience of such volunteers is worth mentioning. One of these was Shri Nathu Damor, 62, of Kumbha Khedi village. He said, “I thought my village was going to get annihilated. My wife and I were so sick that we couldn’t make food. Our neighbours were taking care of us. With dead bodies coming back from cities and someone dying every third day, I thought my time had come. Ram’s grace that the Medical Kits came; I recovered within 3–4 days, and now I am distributing kits in & around my village.”
The team realised that 10k kits wouldn’t be enough within the first week, so the target was doubled to 20k, and not much later, it was again revised to 40k medical kits. Seeing the impact, other social organisations of Jhabua also broke their inertia and joined the wagon. Thus, the community came together to fight, and the movement became Jhabua’s.
Then, the team worked on war-footing, training 2065 volunteers for the next ten days, reaching 27,000 families, and distributing 16000 kits in 710 villages. Shivganga volunteers came to villages that were dying of hope. There were villages where no help had arrived by then, and villagers were more than emotional by the arrival of Shivganga’s team. Jhabua and the team reached the villages of Alirajpur, Dhar, the borders of Gujarat & Rajasthan, banks of Mahi & Narmada. The impact was phenomenal. Numerous stories like Nathu Ji voiced one experience — “the medical kit saved my village”.
Phase II — fighting the rumours
The movement, by then, had entered what we can call phase II. The cases were going down. The fear was getting replaced by trust and hope. But, rumours about vaccines were emerging as a formidable problem, which would have led to devastating consequences if not tackled then & there. Hence, the team decided to focus on Janjagran — social awareness in the next phase of the movement.
The objective was to penetrate deeper into villages through intra-village awareness camps, involving people from every faliya. The second phase began on May 20, with 20–30 camps every day. The kit distribution and training camps also continued. The result was that by May 24, Jhabua had an infection rate of less than 1% and became one of the first districts of Madhya Pradesh to initiate unlocking.
The awareness camps debuffed the cloud of fear around vaccines. There was a situation where villagers would run away seeing any government vehicle, suspecting them to be a vaccine team. From there, the villagers were themselves debunking the rumours. Thus, the atmosphere was changing, from abandoning anyone who would discuss vaccines to a general point of discussion in villages. The administration also noted it and organised awareness camps for Tadavis(traditional head of the village), Sarpanchs and Panchayat secretaries. Shri Rajaram Ji was invited to address the gathering in each camp. This way, the communication of awareness, debunking rumours around vaccines and precautions before and after vaccination, reached more than 400 villages — in many of them, Shivganga had already arrived.
Insights — tangible and intangible
This movement of ‘Medical Kit Distribution and Awareness is a case study; one could go to lengths to emphasise different points it established. This campaign has many intangible experiences; one of them, of course, is the Vanvasi community exemplifying how to stand in the face of such a pandemic. Even in an adverse situation, the community never shredded the spirit of coming together for society — a remarkable feature of Bhils of Jhabua. They never plunged into city-like chaos.
The city volunteers of Shivganga stood on heels to procure medicines and ensured continuous flow in fundraising. While on the one hand, the team contacted targeted people for quick results. The online campaign connected a more extensive section of society, infusing collecting compassion. We can feel & comprehend what impact coming together of different facets of our society can bring. To picture, we have countless stories like that of Shri Nathu Damor, stories of people recovering, and stories of villages recovering from despair and fear.
To summarise in terms of stats, near the closure of the movement, i.e. June 10, the action unfolded involving 386 Faliya level Awareness Camps directly involving 12000 villagers from around 5000 faliyas. In addition, 132 Medical Kit training camps saw 3120 trained volunteers who reached 120000 families, distributing 38400 medical kits across 920 villages.
The model process — Social Capital Generation
The speed and efficiency with which Shivganga was able to mobilise people, evoke a movement and keep its steam rising for a month can put other systems in awe. So what makes Shivganga’s movement a model process?
It is the social capital.
Shivganga has been in Jhabua — one way or other — for twenty years. It has invested itself in a social capital generation. It is through this effort that today, Jhabua has social leaders across the villages. The social leaders whose only motivation is Parmartha, i.e. working selflessly and passionately for society.
Not only the villagers, the team of IIT grads like Nitin, the ‘Friends of Jhabua,’ are all products that one process — existentially absent otherwise in every system — the process of social capital generation.
This process keeps this movement apart and a point to pause for all of us to think, comprehend, and learn.
How else we could have saved 2 million lives in Jhabua-Alirajpur!