As the second wave of Coronavirus swept across India, India’s health minister reported, in the first week of April, that nearly 80% of COVID patients in Punjab were found to be carrying the UK variant (B1.1.7) of the deadly virus.
A majority of cases with new strain seem to be emerging from Doaba region, as reported by the Indian Express. Doaba is a prominent ‘NRI’ region of Punjab that houses a large international Punjabi diaspora, tracing its roots to the UK, US and Canada. The region accounted for nearly 28% of all deaths due to COVID across Punjab.
According to The Pioneer & The Tribune, a large number of NRIs travelled back and forth to Punjab under the #NRIsChaloDelhi campaign to express their support and extend their participation in the 5-month long farmers’ protests.
On 24th April, The Economic Times reported that the presence of UK strain doubled in less than a month in Delhi. Discovered via genome sequencing, more than 50% of all samples taken were carrying the UK variant, compared to 28% in the previous month.
The Director of the NCDC asserted in an interview with The Hindu that “Punjab has a very unique trajectory in the rise of the B.1.1.7. There were at least four major clusters (super spreader events) marriages, farmer protests from February 1 to February 28, that are responsible for large spikes. By March, Delhi was warned about a possible 15,000 critical cases”.
Protesting farmers dismiss COVID as a government conspiracy
Although significantly cut down in numbers, farmers still continue to protest at Ghazipur and Singhu borders. Where, in a report by ThePrint, farmers were found dismissing the Coronavirus as a Modi government conspiracy to halt their protests.
ThePrint interviewed multiple farmers who were present at these sites – where no protocols or protective measures were being followed including putting up masks and maintaining social distancing.
One of the farmers said, as quoted by ThePrint, “Did people not suffer from cough and cold earlier? This corona is a sickness of the urban rich who never come out of their air-conditioned rooms, they eat too much fried food and spoil their bodies, which is why they’re dying…”
Protesters at the sites were also found skipping COVID tests despite showing the symptoms. “If anyone suffers from a cold or has a fever we give them normal paracetamols and they get better. We don’t do Covid testing because Covid is just an excuse by the Modi government to make us end our protest.” said a paramedic operating a medical camp at Singhu border.
Farmer unions divided on the continuation of the movement
Farmer groups were planning to march to the parliament this week. However, the idea was opposed by the Bhartiya Kisan Union Ugrahan and the plan to march to the parliament was postponed. Furthermore, BKUU president made a controversial statement on April 24th citing ‘double characters’ of participating unions.
According to The Indian Express, rifts between communist and non-communist farmer groups have also emerged. Previously, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha had dissassociated itself from the actions taken by Gurnam Singh Chaduni – state president of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Haryana.
Last year, an entire outfit of the Bharatiya Kisan Union was expelled from the umbrella outfit for rushing to the Supreme Court against the three farm laws. Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav was also dropped from the delegation that met union ministers.
Many unions have also backed the government on these laws. This includes the All India Kisan Coordination Committee whose members met minister Narendra Singh Tomar in December supporting the three laws.
Despite the surging wave, many political outfits have also announced to join and amplify the protests. This includes Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, and many other Dalit organizations.
Article by Ashad Ali Khan. All views expressed are personal.