On this highway, villagers erect checkposts, offer sanitisers to keep Covid-19 at bay (IANS Specia)

Faridabad, April 2 (IANS) On the eighth day of the nationwide lockdown to fight Covid-19, as the police struggle to convince people to stay home at many places across the country, the story here on the Faridabad-Sohna highway, 59 km from Delhi, is quite different.

Most of the villages located on this busy highway have set up their own ‘bandobast’ committees (security volunteers) which have erected checkposts and barricades to restrict the entry of outsiders into the villages.

The volunteer groups, mostly village youths, offer a mandatory hand rub and register the phone numbers and addresses of visitors provided they are allowed entry. Some of the youths also carry lathis to respond to any untoward incident.

One of the densely populated villages, Gothda Mohbtabad, has round the clock operational checkposts where one can see at least 8-10 youths guarding the entry point to the village.

The youths, with the consent of the gram panchayat, work in shifts and are served tea and snacks by their fellow neighbours.

“At the first sight we do not allow strangers to step into the village. If they (visitors) have some urgent work or have been invited by someone in the village, we consider their entry,” said 22-year-old Jitendra, who has volunteered to be a committee member.

“We also ask everyone to wear a mask, especially the visitors,” Jitendra said, adding, “We do serve a hand rub to all those who pass through the main entrance of the village. Several 500 ml bottles of sanitisers are kept on the table, which have been provided free of cost by the gram panchayat to the vigilante groups.”

Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a countrywide lockdown from the midnight of March 24, most of the village panchayats in this Jat-Gurjar dominated belt of Haryana held general meetings and decided to secure their homes as well as villages from the spread of coronavirus.

In Mohbtabad village, the panchayat is dominated by women, which includes Sangeeta, Dharamwati, Mamta and Mukesh Devi. Sarpanch Birendra Singh, the leader of the village administration, was quick to decide to set up a checkpost on the main entrance while blocking other entries to the village.

“With the consent of the police, our panchayat decided to set up a 24-hours checkpost. We all volunteered to help the panchayat in stepping up the vigil,” said 24-year-old Satyendra, who aims to be a bodybuilder.

All the nearby villages have similar arrangements.

“We are also educating our grandparents to stay indoors and not venture into the fields as it is the harvest season. The virus is more dangerous for elderly people. So we all are taking precautions, ” said Ram Avtar, a prominent farmer having significant acreage in the area.

According to him, for the last three days, everyone is busy as the harvesting season has begun.

“Though we are trying to maintain social distancing, I prefer to wear a mask,” said Ram Avtar, who has also requested the gram panchayat to provide free masks to the villagers.

Haryana has hitherto reported 35 positive Covid-19 cases, including 10 in Faridabad and six in Gurugram. However, official reports suggest that the dreaded infection is still far away from reaching the villages.