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, has 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?

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 by IIT graduates, medical students and others from different backgrounds.

The distress

Somewhere in mid-April, the second wave crashed all over the Indian peninsula. The villages, who were till now considered safe, saw unprecedented mayhem. Shri Rajaram Katara, who oversees all the ground implementation of programs of Shivganga, starts 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 to support with human resources and whatever means it could. They have the resources and already existing envelope of the network, but it fell on deaf ears. Instead, they responded with ‘you know better than us?’ and ‘stay away!’ glance.

When you know at least 8–10 people you know wouldn’t see morning, you can’t sleep. 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 to 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 doing any good. Hence, the objective was clear — to provide medical assistance right at doorsteps and minimize severe cases as much as possible. Working with medical experts, the team came up with a medical kit effective at the mild stage of Covid-19.

Indore, Mumbai, Delhi and Bhopal chapter 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 even generic drugs like Paracetamol. Here comes the role of Shivganga’ urban social capital — a robust network of volunteers, most of them distinguished alumni 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 4 years — took the task at hand.

Kits and kit preparation at Dharampuri Gurukul

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 to mean once or twice a day. To avoid confusion, the same medicine, if not in a single leaf, were clubbed with a gadder and stapler. Every medical kit also contained a slip in easy Hindi language with emergency contact numbers.
To maintain the stock of kits, 25–30 volunteers were working 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 recognize.

Volunteers taking their lunch

Another deep concern was the safety and health of the volunteers going 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 their own unique kit with N95 and surgical masks. The double mask was an uncompromised rule. The volunteers were also carrying their own water and food. In no situation, they would allow themselves even for a cup of tea. These measures would ensure that Covid wouldn’t catch a 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 himself took the sessions in the batch of 30, sharing the pain and anguish. As a social leader, he gave a call that Bhils have the tradition to rescue 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 the use of 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 was the training that would travel far-off in the villages for coming weeks.

To assist the training, two final-year medical students of Kolhapur Govt. Medical College — Kimbaly and Harshal — joined the team. While Kimbaly has spent months working on women health, it was her first time to Jhabua for Harshal.

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, by the end of the week, the words had spread far. 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 not only for themselves but also for their faliya(mohalla).

“The medical kit saved my village.”

To maximize the villages covered, the team had focused on training camps. In the first 10 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 made a profound impact on people, allowing them to be much more assured about the 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 even make our food. Our neighbours were taking care of us. With dead bodies coming back from cities and people dying every third, I thought my time had come. It is 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 realized 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 to be revised for 40k medical kits. Seeing the impact, other social organizations of Jhabua also broke their inertia and joined the bandwagon. Thus, the community was coming together to fight, and the movement became Jhabua’s movement.

Then, the team worked on war-footing, training 2065 volunteers for the next ten days, reaching 27,000 families, distributing 16000 kits in 710 villages. Shivganga volunteers came reached villages that were with a dying 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 in 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.

Awareness camps deep in villages

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, by May 24, Jhabu 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. A situation was where villagers would run away seeing any government kind of 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 took note of it and organized awareness camps for Tadavis(traditional head of the village), Sarpanchs and Panchayat secretaries. Shri Rajaram Ji was invited to address the gathering in each of these camps. This way, the communication of awareness, debunking rumours around vaccines and precautions before and after vaccination, reached more than 400 villages. 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 emphasize 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 the 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 assure continuous flow in fundraising. While on the one hand, the team was contacting targeted people for quick results. The online campaign was connecting 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 could have countless stories like that of Shri Nathu Damor, stories of people recovering, stories of villages recovering from despair and fear.

To summarize 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 at 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 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 product 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!

Mostly from experience - of tribal Jhabua, and the struggle of learning 'selfless passionate dedication for people'.