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Most Muslims in Punjab’s Malerkotla have Tablighi link. But that’s not their big Covid worry

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Daily wage labourers in a local neighbourhood in Malerkotla, Punjab. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
Daily wage labourers in a local neighbourhood in Malerkotla, Punjab. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint


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Malerkotla: Nearly every Muslim in Malerkotla has a link to the controversial Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. But this town in Punjab’s Sangrur district isn’t as affected by the communal discourse in the rest of the country over the spread of Covid-19 as it is about the lack of rations.

A 25-year-old resident of a local village, who works at a Markaz, tested positive for Covid-19 last week after coming in touch with a Jamaat member who had stayed in Malerkotla in early March.

But the local administration in the Sangrur district city isn’t too worried about the Jamaat link for spreading the virus.

“We tested 44 people who were in his (the local’s) close contact and they all tested negative. It has not spread further and that’s great news for us,” Irtakar-ul-Hassan Kandhalvi, Mufti-e-Azam, Punjab, told ThePrint. He is the religious head of all Muslims in Punjab employed by the state government.

This is in contrast to the largely communal overtones of the public discourse around the Islamic missionary movement’s event in Delhi last month – responsible for nearly 30 per cent of the Covid-19 cases in the country as of 18 April, according to government data.

Two out of every three residents are Muslims in Malerkotla, which has a population of 1,35,424. But the town, known for its history of communal harmony, isn’t engaged in any hostility.

Pointing out that nearly all Muslims in Malerkotla have a link to the Jamaat somehow, Kandhalvi said, “Any intelligent man can understand that a virus is not communal, no matter how hard people try. It transfers from one person to another, not from a Muslim to a Hindu or vice versa.”

Several local residents also subscribed to this view. “Nothing can make the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Malerkotla turn on each other. We have all been living peacefully together for the past 70 years and will continue to do so,” said a local named Sanjay Dhir.

However, while the town may not have a reaction to the Jamaat event, it isn’t immune to the woes that the virus has brought through the nationwide lockdown to control its spread.


Also read: How Punjab kept its farm economy going and brought Asia’s largest grain market back to life


‘Nothing in reality’

A couple of days after the lockdown was imposed on 24 March, the Punjab government issued an order to distribute 10 lakh packets of dry ration to daily wagers and unorganised labour in the state.

Speaking to ThePrint, most daily wage earners in the town claimed the packets — promising 10 kg atta (flour), 2 kg dal (pulses) and 2 kg of sugar each — haven’t reached them as they try to manage food without any income.

Malerkotla houses a huge number of daily wage labourers, mostly migrants, and small-scale business-persons. 

Mohammed Parvez, a small businessman in the hospitality sector, told ThePrint, “There are five-six big mohallas here, but not once has anyone come here to distribute any ration. Everyone says a lot on television, but does nothing in reality.” 

A fruit vendor selling grapes in the lanes of Malerkotla. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
A fruit vendor selling grapes in the lanes of Malerkotla. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

While the government has said essential services will continue to function amid lockdown, people in the town have no money to buy food.  

Parvez said he has been feeding himself and his limited workforce with his savings.

Rafi, a small dyer in the surrounding areas of Kamal Cinema road, hasn’t received any help either. “Not even Re 1 has come to us,” he said, raising his hands to show how they don’t stop shaking. He expressed fears over facing a depressive episode with no work and no income.

‘Government’s job to provide for us’

While the Punjab government has made its relief package available at the deputy commissioner’s office and helpline numbers are active, most daily wage earners in Malerkotla didn’t seem aware of this. 

However, some migrant labourers in the neighbourhood have received ration, albeit of “inedible” quality.

“It is the government’s job to provide for us. Whatever little ration they have sent us, cannot be consumed as the husk is still on – this is meant for birds,” said a woman named Bina Rani, as she held out a plate full of wheat grains. 

A daily wage labourer showing the 'inedible' wheat given by the Punjab government. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
A daily wage labourer showing the ‘inedible’ wheat given by the Punjab government. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

Rani was among a group of migrant daily wage earning women ThePrint spoke to in the neighbourhood. All of them said they were surviving on savings amid the lockdown uncertainties, but even this was nearly exhausted.

Forced to come out on the streets in search of food, they have found support from around 10 local women who have come together to start a makeshift midday meal system for daily wage workers left without food or money. The system, providing one full meal a day, is working on money pooled from within the local community.

“We saw these women sitting outside with no food, so we thought of helping them out,” said one of the women engaged in the midday meal system.

Locals around the Kamal Cinema road in Malerkotla preparing the midday meal for daily wage earners. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
Locals around the Kamal Cinema road in Malerkotla preparing the midday meal for daily wage earners. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

Speaking to ThePrint, Beant Kinger, municipal councillor ward 25 in Malerkotla, said the town is not “well-off”.

“The kits are provided to us from the MLA house. Only 4,000 kits have been given for the whole city which has 33 MC (municipal council) wards and 55 villages. This is why everyone hasn’t got a lot. There is a need for ration in the public.”

However, the city’s sub-divisional magistrate Vikramjit Singh Panthey denied some of these charges. “More than 8,000 kits have been distributed. We do get a lot of complaints about people not getting food, but not all of them are genuine. But those which are genuine are helped out after being verified,” he said.


Also read: 5-day break for staff, proper kits — how Punjab hospital is handling Covid-19 in hotspot


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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