Helping remove ‘quarantine’ stigma

Peace committees resolve disputes and help avoid violence in Odisha villages

May 24, 2020 11:53 pm | Updated 11:53 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Members of peace committee and villagers in Balangir district.

Members of peace committee and villagers in Balangir district.

With stigma associated with COVID-19 creating bad blood among villagers, activists have come up with peace committees for instant dispute resolution, especially relating to quarantining in three districts of Odisha.

Such committees set up in 36 gram panchayats covering 190 villages in Balangir, Nuapada and Bargarh districts have not only been in the forefront of making people aware about importance of undergoing quarantine but also have worked for removing stigma attached to the pandemic.

First lockdown

It all started with the first lockdown. Activists formed Virtual Community Volunteers Network (VCVN) by operating from remote locations. The only medium of establishing contacts among them was mobile phones. The volunteers collected information of migrants, probable date of return and counselled them on safety and precautions.

“During our interactions, we came across a number of issues which threatened to spoil the unity among the villagers. Then, peace committees involving local sarpanchs, ASHA workers and volunteers took shape,” said Prashant Kumar Nayak, who heads Palli Alok Pathagar, a Balangir-based social organisation.

Last week, a woman who came from Ludhiana to her village Hirapur in Bargarh district, faced opposition from fellow villagers when she insisted on staying at home instead of undergoing institutional quarantine. In the same block, a teacher posted at Jeypore returned to his village Kechhodadar. Both faced social boycott. The committee brokered peace. While the woman had to accept institutional quarantine, the teacher because of his inter-district movement remained in home quarantine.

Similarly, inmates of quarantine centre at Budhpatha in Balangir district were reluctant to take food prepared by woman self-help group, members of which are from Dalit community. The situation turned ugly and the women lodged a police complaint. The peace committee members talked to all stakeholders and found a solution. The woman SHG started preparing food at the centre.

Counsel inmates

At some places, inmates of quarantine centres locked up rooms from inside not letting newcomers in. “Our volunteers counselled them,” said Saroj Barik, a lead member of VCVN. Now, volunteers are persuading people to adopt social distancing and safety practices during distribution of entitlement and work sites of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

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