COVID-19: 300-400 Maldhari families from Gujarat stranded in Chhattisgarh

Pastoralists seen as ‘corona carriers’ in state

By Avdhesh Mallick
Published: Wednesday 15 April 2020

Around 350-400 Maldhari families, nomadic pastoralists from Gujarat, are stuck in eight districts of Chhattisgarh due to the ongoing lockdown in the wake of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. 

They have been travelling from Gujarat to Chhattisgarh through Maharashtra and back for centuries and have never had to face any hindrance, until now.

But currently, these pastoral nomads, who sell the milk, ghee, butter and wool of their sheep, goats, cows and camels, are being viewed as carriers of SARS-COV-2 and being stigmatised, adding to their problems.  

Nama Ben, a Maldhari woman in Chhattisgarh, told this reporter that the rations and money that her family had, were about to be exhausted very soon.

As shops opened only up to 11 in the morning, there was a rush at them and village shopkeepers deliberately refused to give rations, she said. “We are seen as corona carriers,” she added.

The Madharis are a pastoral group from Gujarat similar to other groups such as Gujjars and Bakarwals in Jammu and Kashmir, Gaddis in Himachal Pradesh and Raikas in Rajasthan. They are also known as Rabaris in Gujarat.

The districts of Chhattisgarh where they are stranded include Bemetara, Mungeli, Dhamtari, Rajnandgaon, Durg, Kawardha, Balod and Kanker.

One Maldhari group consisting of seven families, are currently staying at Arjunda village in Balod district. They contacted this reporter through Gujarat-based non-profit, MARAG, that described their worsening condition.

“Initially, when the fear of coronavirus spread, the villagers boycotted us and made efforts to drive us from their lands, saying they would get infected due to us. Luckily, some local leaders intervened and diffused the problem but that was a temporary reprieve,” Gowabhai Satishgarh, Maldhari local leader, said.

Today, people have again started viewing the Maldharis as ‘corona carriers’.

Recently, some Tablighi Jamaat members tested positive for SARS-COV-2 in Katghora and the number of coronavirus-infected patients jumped to more than 25. This spike has, unfortunately, added to the Maldharis’ woes.

Villagers in Balod threatened the Maldharis to get out of their lands or be ready to face the consequences.

“They are not allowing us to stay for more than one or two days on their lands. This never happened earlier,” Bablu Tharu, a member of the Maldhari community, said.  

Thus, in order to avoid administrative hassles and villagers’ objections, we avoid highways and move to safer places at night, amid fields, Bablu added.

The state administration promised to do everything to reduce the sufferings of the community.   

“I assure you, we will take all necessary actions to provide them relief,” state nodal officer Sonmani Borah, said.

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