Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya.
Video Editor: Sandeep Suman & Ashutosh Bhardwaj
“I am going to take pills for my mother,” says five-year-old Sonu, as he walks through the deserted lanes of Mundhal Kalan in Haryana’s Bhiwani district. But the first grade student is not the only one perplexed with his mother's sudden bout of fever.
Panchayat leaders in the village say that almost every home in Mundhal has at least one person suffering from fever and cough, while around 60 people have died after displaying similar symptoms in the last 20 days.
“The crematorium is filled with ashes. There have been several cremations here. 60 deaths in 20 days is not a small thing in our village. We had to cremate bodies on the ground as there was no space on the platforms. No, this has never happened before. We have never seen such a pandemic here. People get fever, which lasts two to three days and then the person passes away.”Vijender Rohilla, Sarpanch, Mundhal Khurd.
As more people complain of fever, Rohilla is worried about what the future holds. His village with a population of 30,000 has no isolation centre or ambulance. The nearest hospitals are about 30 kilometers away, which remain out of reach for the poor who cannot afford to transport their sick family members to distant health care centres.
Scrambling for Beds And Oxygen
Four-year-old Tannu believes that her mother has “gone to Lord Ram.” Raam ke gayi hai, she mutters when asked when she had last seen the 45-year-old woman who had adopted her a couple of years ago.
Suman, Tannu’s mother, had been reeling under fever for around eight days, after which she tested positive for both Typhoid and COVID-19. The family says they struggled to find an oxygen bed as she lay gasping for air.
“We didn’t get a bed in Hisar, Hansi or Bhiwani. We then took her to the emergency ward in Civil Hospital, Hansi, where she was given oxygen. But she was still in distress, so they removed the oxygen supply and referred her to Hisar. When we picked her up, she collapsed and relieved herself. Her blood pressure plummeted, and she suffered a heart failure. By the time we took her to the ambulance, she had passed away.”Sandeep, Suman’s brother-in-law.
A couple of houses away, Poonam, a 27-year-old pregnant woman, had died after testing positive. Her uncle Ashok says that although she was admitted to a hospital in Hisar, she “died gasping for oxygen.”
Little Awareness, Insufficient Testing
While Poonam and Suman had tested COVID-19 positive, village leaders said many others died after suffering from fever and cold, but did not get tested for the virus. Among them are 35-year-old wrestler Sanjay Singh and 65-year-old Diwan Singh.
Ram Singh, uncle of deceased Wrestler Sanjay said that villagers weren’t told that fever, cough and headache could be symptoms of a COVID-19 infection.
“No one is keeping well here, there’s fever in almost every house here,” he said.
Soran Sharma, Sarpanch of Mundhal Kalan, said that only 124 people in the village were tested for a day, out of which about 60 percent were positive. “There's no treatment or facility being offered to those people for testing. The village is waiting for masks. A lot of children are waiting for masks but the government isn't sending them,” he said.
With no masks, hospitals and little testing, villagers have been left to fend for themselves. This has prompted a group of teenagers to carry a bucket full of herbal incense throughout the village.
“This will prevent coronavirus and there will be less cases,” the trio said. When asked why they weren’t wearing masks, they said “we're inhaling this smoke; there's no way we'll get infected.”