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Slum Sanitization: A step towards prevention of Novel Coronavirus

This Article is written by Sushree Sunanda Sahu, Law student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Vizag

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled the lives of everyone, severely affecting the lower economic groups (LEGs),[1] more so because of the imposition of the nation-wide lockdown which have deprived the LEGs of their means of income. Their state of joblessness makes it difficult for the people belonging to the LEGs to feed their families or to afford a proper house.[2] In a situation where the basic amenities of life are at stake, they cannot be expected to buy masks and sanitizers to protect themselves against the novel corona virus. Social distancing is a dream for them, as their houses are simple and small structures stacked up together at one place, with negligible space in between; for they can’t afford to ‘waste’ any space.[3] And such a situation is obvious in a populous nation like India that has one in every six people residing in an urban slum.[4]

Given their economic conditions, state of crises and dwelling environments, it must be realized that they are at a higher risk of contracting the disease and must be effectively shielded against it.[5] The prime issue of concern is that despite their vulnerabilities, diagnosis continues to be a costly affair for them. They might have contracted the virus and never get diagnosed, while the virus keeps spreading over to others. Slums are over-crowded places and testing each of the slum-dwellers would be a costly affair for the government. We cannot expect governments to take such steps out-rightly, as they are burdened with more severe issues to handle. In view of the inability of the governments to combat such situations, many people, NGOs and other organizations volunteer to work towards the safety and security of the vulnerable groups residing in the slums. The volunteers adopt measures towards reducing the vulnerability of slum-dwellers to the disease. They are the ‘messiahs’ in disguise, our social workers. They have been working relentlessly to help the distressed populations in coping with the hard times; by providing them with food, essential goods, medicines, sanitizers, masks etc.

These social workers and volunteers are no less than the front-line warriors of Covid-19. Undoubtedly, the services rendered by doctors, nurses, policemen etc. are commendable; but the social workers and their efforts should be recognized as well. The former group is appointed for a particular purpose and gets some benefits out of their services; but the latter do it out of their sense of humanitarianism. They value the lives of everyone as much they value their own; or probably they value the lives of others more than their own and hence take upon themselves the risk of stepping out of their houses to provide for others. One has to be extremely selfless to subject oneself to such precarious situations.

While a lot has been reported about the efforts of social workers, social service organizations and NGOs, I would like to share the story of one person; who single-handedly sanitized the slums of Patna; the capital city of Bihar. This boy named Ujjwal Ashutosh is a resident of the same city and is a student at my university. Due to the lockdown, our university has shut down like all other institutions. In these vacations when every student relaxed at their houses; this boy was worried about the situations of the people living in slum areas. Having read too much about them and their increased vulnerabilities due to Covid-19 and the nation-wide lockdown, he chose to step out for the benefit of others; to decrease their vulnerability and to ensure their safety; rather than waiting for the government to take proper steps towards risk reduction of the slum dwellers.

Though his resolve was firm, the process required proper permission from the authorities, which was a long-drawn process.

He had to visit them numerous times; submit a draft proposal; convince them on the point and get their permission for the activity to be carried out. It was certainly not an easy task; but he persevered and never lost hope. He could oversee slum dwellers living in overcrowded areas, devoid of sanitation and public services; with an open drainage system; their dilapidated structures standing next to canals, water channels and drains; subjecting them to other diseases as much as the novel corona virus. Looking at their situations, he knew that something must be done about these people; they could not be allowed to live in such situations, furthering the risks of their already vulnerable lives. Rehabilitation is certainly not an option in such hard times; and even if it was, it was very difficult to find enough infrastructures to accommodate people in such large numbers and to provide them with the basic necessities. So, he chose to do what according to him was best suited for the situation- SANITIZE.

Having received the approval from the authorities; he was ecstatic. Having bought the requisite equipments and a PPE for himself; he stepped out, to the slums of Patna. He had to convince people to grant him permission to enter their houses and mostly the permission came without much opposition, for his purpose was novel and everyone knew that his activities would only benefit them. Having convinced them, he sanitized houses, from one to another, he moved on and on; through the length and breadth of the city; sanitizing the surfaces of the houses, all by himself, by spraying the disinfectant over them. Though the structures were small, they were many in number. Further, he had to be careful enough not to damage their dilapidated structures. After having done his activity for the whole day, he felt accomplished and satisfied; for he touched the lives of those who could not afford sanitization. He has made his organization and all its members, proud. Yes, having registered an NGO by the name Kshitizz[6]; he undertook the activity under the banner of the NGO and shared its credit among its members; even though none but him had actually undertaken the herculean task. Tiring as it must be, he fell sick too; and thankfully recovered- looking for a new ventures to undertake.

It is these men who give hope to the people who lack everything in life and are simply hopeless. With sadness shrouding their lives; social workers bring them joy, like a ray of sunshine, after chilly winter nights.

[1]Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7261093/

[2]Id.

[3]Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/06/10/covid-19-turns-spotlight-on-slums.

[4]Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte-infographics/slums/index.html, accessed on 29th July, 2020.

[5]Supra 3.

[6]Available at: https://www.kshitizz.org/

The photographs have been attached here. (In these photographs, he is wearing the PPE, mask and helmet, so his face may not be very clearly visible.)

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