The havoc wrecked by the pandemic has led to many theories, committees, criticisms, and calculations by luminaries across sectors on the handling of the COVID surge in India and the gaping hole in India’s public health system. This culminated in the formation of the National Task Force comprising leading doctors. With their guidance the medical part would surely be taken care of in time. But does the buck stop there? As per the Census, 833,748,852 of India’s population live in rural areas out of the more than 1.4 billion. With more than 717 districts in the country and 638,365 villages, the most dreaded situation is the spread of the virus into the rural areas.

By Dr Swati Mitra

How can we handle this situation?

At the heart of our approach must be an understanding of deep “culture” moorings of Indian society where the concept of five people going for a funeral or fifty people attending a wedding is not acceptable. Human-beings by nature are social with an attachment to socio-cultural-religious beliefs. The virus has attacked the intrinsic nature of humankind which prevents us from accepting social distancing. Wearing a mask at home in rural areas would mean a trust deficit to family members and relatives.

India still has joint family system and more so in rural areas which led to a lower number of mortalities amongst the elderly, but as the virus claimed older populations lives in Europe, United States the general belief was it has come to sweep away the older population, the perception played in the minds of senior citizens and in India there were more non Covid-19 deaths as happened with my father rather here younger people fell prey to the virus as they went out to fend for the families.

Therefore, keeping in view, the unique socio-cultural fabric of India and South Asia a different approach is required to address the current crisis and not blame for the social behaviour they indulge upon. So, along with the technical understanding of the virus, we need to have a “very Indian social” approach to handle the pandemic.

How do we go about it?

Promote the concept of “Seva” or “serve people” which appeals to the general populace by involving a host of players and use the “Power of Volunteerism by a billion people” by instilling self- belief that every little effort by every citizen saves a life. The following proactive steps need to be promoted by the government for every citizen to: a) Encourage your friends and family to vaccinate b) Raise awareness on social distancing /Masking and facilitate formation of Village Task Force

How will this cascade down? a) Public-private partnership: Top Corporates that believe in the concept of volunteerism, government, and the most important stake holder the community come together to achieve this feat. For example: The Tata group espoused a programme “Badhon ke saath” or “with the elders” and they went about counselling them during the last wave, provided dry ration, medicines this helped many people not to succumb to the “fear” of the virus. b) Civil Society: They could reach the community and help in generating awareness, engaging with the community.

The National Disaster Management Authority would coordinate through State Disaster Management Authority down to District Disaster Management Authority and Village level, technical aspects would be looked after by the National Task Force, simultaneously, various organisation like Art of Living or that of ISHA Foundation, Yoga teachers or any other such group from different religions would work towards dispelling the fear psychosis and in promoting Psycho-Social support through the practice of meditation. In India, going to Psychiatrist is perceived as being mentally unstable. We must be sensitive to people’s perceptions, take value systems into cognizance while formulating policies.

It is time India shows to the world that it can handle its problems by engaging every citizen with participatory approach based on simple achievable solutions with a commitment for investing in stronger public health systems. We cannot be mute spectators watching our neighbour die. My personal experience has confirmed in the few days a mere phone call, encouraging words, or singing fewlines, putting up soft music in hospitals specially COVID wards gives the fighting spirit to the patient. As predicted the future wars are likely to involve biological tools where a country’s human resources would be attacked and with half a billion young population, we cannot afford to be diseased and weak therefore let us as a nation ensure every citizen behaves responsibly.

This article first appeared in and it belongs to them. The author is a research associate with VIF.