Amidst Covid-19 crisis enterprising youth like Pravina trigger new rural revolution

Pravina with her mother Chanda
Pravina with her mother

By Moin Qazi*

As the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 continues and the nation staggers in its recovery from the debilitating impact of the pandemic, many are left stranded away from home and battling hunger every day. Many migrant workers and students walked hundreds of kilometres to reach home but several others couldn’t and they are left without shelter and food in these testing times.

Hunger, exhaustion and desperation are all enforcing the determination to reach home, in their villages far away. There are tears when someone stops to speak with them, but otherwise a strange kind of sense of purpose, a steadfastness in the face of acute misery. With the government having miserably failed to provide succour to the stranded people and the resources of voluntary organisations already overstretched, the poor and the sufferers have been left to their ingenuity to fend for themselves. The crisis has brought the remarkable tenacity of people in the face of hunger and misery, have shown amazing resilience.

Every day we hear stories about enterprising youth using their mutual strength to sustain their morale. While the initial casualties and distress are understandable on account of the unpredictable nature of the crisis and absence of a playbook for guidance, the pathetic response of the government even as the crisis rolled on more fiercely has left people lose faith in the system.

Many of the stranded people, including migrants and students who have been able to cope with the aftermath of the draconian lockdown were able to do so only through their own enterprise and ingenuity. The pandemic and the lockdown have suddenly burst forth hidden springs of courage and valour particularly among students who used their social media skills with remarkable effect.

Many of them were able to shake the system out of its stupor. Thankfully, we will see a new generation of an enlightened and resilient generation which won’t meekly accept injustices which their predecessors suffered on account of illiteracy and lack of empowerment. We can expect to see a deep wave of social churning and the huge simmering unrest is going to manifest in complex forms. It will require very statesman-like responses and can also fix some of the deeper fault lines which have been stubbornly unresponsive to conventional approaches.

Pravina Buradkar is a twenty three year old firebrand who comes from a poor family in Wanoja village in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. She had joined coaching classes for state civil services examination at a government run facility in Pune. Since her parents couldn’t afford her monthly expenses, she took up a part time employment. The lockdown was a cruel surprise. Pravina and her roommates had little savings to fall back upon.

They located relief centre where free meals were being provided to stranded people. Meanwhile, Pravina kept scouring the internet for links which could provide clues for a safe passage to her village. The entire experience was a great learning for her. “I dialled almost everybody who mattered, right from the helpline to my local legislator. I became so disillusioned with their stoic response that I would often lose my temper”, says Pravina.

Having lost all hope in the system, she started organising people of her home district who were stranded in Pune. She became her group’s leader and started making out a collective case for evacuation. A local NGO, MPSC Students Rights, apparently cobbled by activist-oriented students like Pravina and having some local backers lobbied strongly with local authorities and finally succeeded.

Pravina recalls her journey by bus from Pune to her native village:

“It took us a full day to reach our home. There was excitement at having got a reprieve from the tough ordeal of almost two months. But this joy was frustrated by the sight of thousands of migrants trekking their way on foot. We crossed hundreds of different types of vehicles that were ferrying loads of passengers as if it was a herd of livestock being taken to the abattoir… something I had witnessed close to my village. It was a spectacle I cannot forget. It gave me a first clear understanding of the plight of India’s poor… bonded in their own homeland. That image refuses to fade even as I have settled down in the daily rhythms of my home and village.”

While the initial casualties and distress are understandable on account of the unpredictable nature of the crisis and absence of a playbook for guidance, the pathetic response of the government even as the crisis rolled on more fiercely has left people lose faith in the system. Many of the stranded people, including migrants and students who have been able to cope with the aftermath of the draconian lockdown, were able to do so only through their own enterprise and ingenuity.

The pandemic and the lockdown have suddenly burst forth hidden springs of courage and valour, particularly among students, who used their social media skills with remarkable effect. Many of them were able to shake the system out of its stupor. Thankfully we will see a new generation of an enlightened and resilient generation which won’t meekly accept injustices which their predecessors suffered on account of illiteracy and lack of empowerment. We can expect to see a deep wave of social churning and the huge simmering unrest is going to manifest in complex forms. It will require very statesman-like responses and can also fix some of the deeper fault lines which have been stubbornly unresponsive to conventional approaches.

Enterprising youth like Pravina can be harbingers for a new rural revolution that could make villages a nucleus for local livelihood promotion. With thousands of migrants returning to their native villages, it is extremely necessary to create additional employment if we have to stave off social, political and economic unrest. Many of the migrants returning home have diverse skillsets, but they may not be suitable candidates for entrepreneurial ventures. A marriage between their skills and the business acumen of the youth can open new vistas of rural regeneration.

Through their own individual experience these young activists are visualising a zoomed-out perspective that gives them some idea of the larger reality. Pravina has suddenly turned into an active campaigner for changing the situation and spends her post-return home quarantine swapping strategies with those of her ilk.

There have been several blips in the arc of tragedies that has gripped up so occasionally but leaders with fresh approaches have helped ride them. One only hopes covid doesn’t leave permanent scars on the mental psyche of the millions of Pravinas.We will need a calibrated and careful out-of-box response without getting intimidated by the humongousness of the crisis.

*Development expert

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