DIMAPUR, AUGUST 1: “Mon chutu na kuribi (Don’t lose heart),” Irachube Zeliang (name not changed) says as he reflected on his tryst with COVID-19. When the 33-year old alighted from the train after traveling from Puducherry to Dimapur with just Rs 5000 in hand, his chief concern was how his large family of parents, siblings, and wife, would deal with the loss of his income. Then, almost two weeks later, he was admitted at the Dimapur COVID Hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.
Irachube, who has recovered completely, has a simple message for the people of Nagaland: “Panic or stigmatization will not help; strictly follow the protocol like social-distancing and wearing masks.”
The Zeme Naga from Samziuram village in Jalukie, Peren district, was on board the first Shramik Special Train bringing stranded Nagas from Chennai, which arrived at Dimapur on May 22. He, along with many others, was lodged at the quarantine centre of St. Joseph University at Dimapur. Nine days later, he, along with others, was tested for Covid-19. A couple of days later he was told to get his belongings ready, but not informed whether he had tested positive or negative. “Probably they (doctors) didn’t want to cause alarm.” Irachube informed that he had a mild cough since the start of the journey. While lodged at the QC, he realized the food was tasting bland in his mouth and his sense of smell was affected. On June 6, he was shifted to the hospital and then informed that he had tested positive.
How did he react? “I felt a little concerned on testing positive, and more so as I realized my return home would be delayed; but otherwise I was not too worked-up. Except for the mild cough, I was feeling quite fit and fine.” Irachube says the doctors and nurses at the hospital were friendly and the arrangement was “thik thak.” “During my stay in the hospital, I was given a healthy diet, vitamins, a few medicines, and warm water. I felt no weakness, and the days just passed by.”
Irachube’s second test too came positive on June 12. Then a few days later he tested negative and was declared recovered and discharged on June 18. On June 21, he finally reached his village, and started the second phase of quarantine at the community’s QC, followed by home quarantine. As of today, he is healthy and helping his parents in farming.
The 33-year old who had endured many a struggle in life while trying to earn and survive in the cities south of this country asserts that there is no cause to panic, but people need to be careful and maintain good immunity.
“People are panicking on hearing about the deaths due to COVID. There have been so many diseases that humanity has endured, but there was no social media. Now the panic is largely because of social media,” he opines while reiterating on the need to follow rules so that the disease doesn’t spread.
Irachube Zeliang had to quit school after Class 8 so that he could help his parents, both farmers, to support the family of 12. Failing to find any good prospect of income, he set out. From working in the house-keeping section at a 5-star on a meagre salary to being a salesman, he has traveled from one city to another over the past years in search of better livelihood. The money he sent back home meant a lot to his family back home. For the last two years, he has been in charge of managing the day to day affairs of a restaurant along with a friend. This year he was looking forward to boosting his income with the expansion of the restaurant. Then COVID-19 happened. The restaurant closed in March, and his salary stopped.
“I am now helping my parents in farming, but the going is tough for my family. Don’t know when life will be back to normal again,” Irachube rues. “Whatever little I earn counts a lot for my family. So I have to go back, even though I don’t like to stay away from my village and my family.”
On a brighter note, Irachube says that unlike what he has been hearing about people being discriminated due to COVID-19, the folks in his village have shown maturity. “I faced no discrimination in the village, and from even my immediate neighbors, although I maintain social distancing, and urge others to do so too.”
The Nagaland strategy in battling the COVID pandemic has been secrecy to date. But obviously that has done nothing to mitigate stigma as there are increasing reports of frontline workers being stigmatized. Nagaland Page had reached out to another returnee who tested positive but recovered and is reported to be in fine health. Her family refused to allow the young woman to narrate her ordeal as they assume that people are not meant to talk about it. Ironically, their neighbors are in the know.
A doctor in Naga Hospital Kohima feels that the Government is not helping by creating this atmosphere of secrecy. “I don’t understand why the Government is being so secretive. COVID-19 is not the Government’s fault. The secrecy is actually causing more stigma in our society, and also hindering us in contact-tracing.” The need of the hour, he says, is for the Government to create more awareness.
Many world leaders have come out making public announcements after testing positive, and so have many celebrities. Politicians, bureaucrats, and celebrities in India too have been open about it, with media closely following the status of their health. Closer home, in Assam, names and details of people testing positive were being made public till it was not possible with the surge in the number of cases. Till date the Assam Health Minister tweets out the names of those who have fallen victim to the pandemic along with due condolence.
Just recently, a Naga legislator tweeted that he has tested positive, and was immediately showered praises for his leadership. But, till his announcement on Twitter around 7 p.m., Government functionaries remained tight-lipped when the media tried to confirm the news. By then it was all over social media.
Observers also note that the response of a large section of the Naga public to the pandemic, especially in urban areas, like barricading entrances to colonies and impeding movement of frontline workers have contributed to the atmosphere of panic and that there is a need for creating awareness.
The question is whether the veil of secrecy creating an atmosphere of dread or proving effective in battling the pandemic?