Traditional Home Quarantine & Social Assistance for distressed Jumma people of COVID-19

Photo collected

Hill Voice, 27 April 2020, CHT:  In consequence to the country-wide-undeclared Lockdown with government declaration of general holiday and shut down of public transports, factories and industries for prevention of COVID-19 infection, thousands of indigenous Jumma wage earners got stuck in various cities and towns of the country. Due to gradual extension of undeclared lockdown alongside for not reopening factories and industries and also for not receiving salaries and allowances, these Jumma workers landed in extreme food crisis and financial catastrophe. Usually, they lodge in the nearby rental flats cramping themselves in each of the rooms while overtime duty provides a little respite to the inmates. But it was due to staying under contraction for a long time, their lives became unbearable.

Under such circumstance, risking their lives under compulsion, the Jumma wage earners working in various factories and industries in Dhaka, Chittagong and Comilla began to back to their homes on 25 March 2020 as the exodus of wage earners started on 24 March 2020. The army and police forces blocked the home-bound one thousand Jumma wage earners who were already panic-stricken of coronavirus and even amid country-wide lockdown, with risking their lives, were returning from Dhaka, Savar, Chittagong and Comilla on the way at Nayabazaar – the boundary line of Chittagong and Khagrachhari districts. On the other side, the home-bound Jumma wage earners also had to face tremendous harassment of the security forces and law & order forces at Rubber Bagan area, boundary point of Chitagong and Rangamati districts.

While the already stuck Jumma wage earners raised a protest, the police conducted an irrespective baton charge upon them at 11 a.m. on 16 April 2020. This happened at Nayapara Check Post under Manikchhari of Khagrachhari hill district. Following the police atrocities, the District Administration issued permission to the male and female Jumma workers for entrance into Khagrachhari around 10:00 p.m. that day. The District Administration assured them of escorting by the army to their localities with an instruction to remain under home quarantine for 14 days. Thus, how they could reach their homes in different Upazilas of Khagrachhari hill district. As per instruction, they would have to stay in quarantine and would get into their house after obtaining release certificates from the Health Department. But as most of their houses are in far and inaccessible locations, many of them could not stay under government-managed institutional home quarantine service.

However, as per the decision concluded among the representatives from remote rural localities, village heads, especially at the initiative of youth community of Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban hill districts of CHT, huts for traditional home quarantine were promptly erected in the jungle nearby villages in respective villages, Unions and Upazilas. All the returnee Jumma wage earners would have to stay there where they would have to mandatorily maintain social distancing with the local inhabitants and their family members.

It is not only the traditional quarantine measure that is available amongst the indigenous Jumma people, the traditional measures also include emergency services and extending assistance to the distressed, poor, widow and so on, especially during calamity. Even amid Covid-19 pandemic, the youth or individuals or organizations are being noticed to take initiative to help and assist the people immersed in food crisis due to lack of livelihood earnings.

Depicted below is some of the initiatives of traditional quarantine measures of the Jumma people and on quarantine measures undertaken in various areas in combating the covid-19 infection:

1. Traditional Quarantine System

Up till this day, in combating the Covid-19 the words: Quarantine, Isolation and Lockdown, though sound to be new to many in the world including the indigenous peoples of CHT, in reality, these measures have been in use in battling any infectious disease in this region since long ago. It is heard that this sort of preventive measures against any dreadful infectious disease was in use in many ways amongst various nationals and indigenous ethnic peoples in the whole Indian sub-continent. Also in the indigenous Jumma society, similar kind of preventive management against infection of endemic disease or infectious and non-curable diseases was in practice since the time immemorial.

Indeed, it is only several decades ago, a kind of ‘Home Quarantine’ or ‘Isolation’ system had been in use among the indigenous Jumma people of this region to prevent possible infection as well as giving treatment to the patients suffering from the then hardly curable diseases, such as, Leprosy, Tuberculosis, small pox, etc. Preventive management against endemic disease would also include a kind of ‘lockdown’ measure centering a village or an area known as ‘Para Bandh’ or ‘Area Bandh.’ For instance, as it is now being practiced in the indigenous Mro dwelling areas traditionally by encircling a village with bamboo-fence blocking the main entrance – a kind of lockdown – quite visible. In the past, if somebody in a family living in certain area or village, would appear to have developed infectious and incurable disease or any infectious disease, as such, the family members concerned or villagers would construct a separate room at a place adjacent to the family concerned. Necessary items, medicines and food would be arranged for the patient. The physician called Boidyo or Ozha would go and visit the patient there. But in case of disease with low-gravity infection, the patient would be kept in a separate room inside the house.

The indigenous Jumma peoples of CHT have now introduced their own traditional quarantine measure in battling the Covid-19 infection. It is learnt that the youth community, volunteering at their won, has constructed rooms hedged with bamboos and trees to facilitate the ‘Home Quarantine’ services. For instances, 7 rooms of such traditional quarantine have been erected in Babuchhara of Dighinala Upazila under Khagrachhari hill district. In Jatna Kumar Karbari Para of Ward No.1 under No. 4 Dighinala Union of Dighinala Upazila, 35 Jumma returnees are now staying in 35 Quarantine rooms. In the same union, 13 people are staying in 3 such rooms in Hengotya Karbari Para.

In Shimultali villages under No. 1 Merung Union, 6 people are staying in one house and 5 people are staying in another house. 11 people are staying in 4 houses in Ward No. 5 of Choto Merung. In Shantipur village of Panchhari Upazila, 31 Jumma wage earners are staying in 13 houses. In Manikchhari village of Maischhari Union under Mahalchhari Upazila of Khagrachhari hill district, 2 persons are staying in one house. In Chongarachhari Mukh village of Mahalchhari Union under Khagrachhari hill district, 9 persons are living in 4 houses. In Bagtoyee Karbari Para of Ward No. 9 under No.2 Hapchhari Union, 4 persons are staying in 2 houses.

In New Perachhara village of No. 30 Baghaichari Union under Baghaichhari Upazila of Rangamati hill district, 11 persons are staying in 5 houses. In Nolbonia village of Khedarmara Union under Baghaichhari Upazila of Rangamati hill district, 17 Jumma workers are staying in several houses. In Jhagarabill village under Ward No. 9 of No-35 Union under Baghaichhari Upazila, 14 persons are staying there and 5 persons are staying in one house built at Kachalong Riverside under No. 33 Marishya Union and 14 people are staying in 4 houses under Bongaltali Union of Baghaichhari Upazilla under Rangamati hil district.

9 persons are staying quarantined in 2 houses of Ward No. 9 Bogachhari Kukurmara village under Naniarchar Upazila of Rangamati hill district. In the same Upazila, 12 persons are staying quarantined in 3 houses of Dishaine Para under No. 2 Sabekkhyong union and 3 persons are staying quarantined in 1 house of Larma Para under No.2 Sabekkyong Union of the same Upazila; in the same union, 5 persons have been quarantined in 2 houses in Sonaram Karbari Para; and 8 persons are quarantined in 3 houses of Jharbo Mahajan Para. 2 persons are in quarantine in one house of Chowdhurychhara of Ghilachhari Union. 7 persons are staying quarantined in 2 houses of Maischhari village under Ghilachhari union of Naniarchar Upazila under Rangamati hill district.

One person is staying quarantined in one house of Ward No. 7 of Guichhari under Sapchari union of Rangamati Sadar Upazila. 2 females are staying quarantined in one house of Masya Para under Bandukbhanga union of Rangamati Sadar Upazilla. 1 person is staying quarantined in one house of Damechhara Union under Bandukbhanga Union of Ranagamati Sadar Upazila. 13 persons are staying quarantined in 3 houses of Tingojjya village under Ward No.7 of Bandhuk Bhanga Union of Rangamati Sadar Upazilla. 9 persons are staying quarantined in 3 houses of Nareichhari village under Sapchhari union under Rangamati Sadar Upazilla. 16 people are staying quarantined in 3 houses of Perachhara village under Kudukchhari union of Rangamati Sadar Upazila. 2 persons are quarantined in 1 house of Ward No.9 under Dollechhari village of Jibtoli Union under Rangamati Sadar Upazila.

2 persons are staying quarantined in one house under Ward No.2 of Dane Atarokchhara under Longadu Upazila of Rangamati hill district. 21 persons in one large house are staying quarantined in Kattoli Boro Adam of Longadu Upazila under Rangamati hill district. 17 persons are staying quarantined in one large house in Harihaba village of Longadu Upazila under Rangamati hill district. 4 persons are staying quarantined in 2 houses in Gugarchhari village in No.1 Subalong Union of Barkal Upazila under Rangamati hill district. 13 people are staying quarantined in 13 separate houses of Ward No. 4 under Kaukhali union of Rangamati Sadar upazila and 5 more houses have been constructed in Ultapara village of the same Upazila for the purpose.

19 people are staying quarantined in 7 houses under Ward No. 2 of Manikchhari union under Rangamati Sadar Upazila. Besides, temporary traditional home quarantine houses have been constructed in some 30 places in Baghaichhari and Sajek Union of Baghaichhari Upazila under Rangamati hill district. Of the places, most worthy to be mentioned are: Baghaihut, Bhaibachhara, Hazachhara, Nangolmara, Uluchhara, Nandaram, Dipupara, Shuknochhara, Korollyachhari, Eguchchhyachhari and Bhaibonchhara.

In an interview with the Daily Star published on 18 April 2020, Chittagong-returnee Supriyo Chakma, an inhabitant of Khamar Para area under Naniarchhar Upazila said: “In order to keep my family and the villagers free from COVID-19 risk, my friend and I have built a temporary house near our village. After passing 14 days in quarantine, I shall get into my house.” Sukiron Chakma of Khedarmara under Baghaichhari Upazila said: “Those who are coming from outside, it is for them, we have collectively constructed temporary houses to ensure their home quarantine so that they can stay without worry for 15-20 days there.”

2. Traditional Social help and assistance

It is admissible that the indigenous society lags behind in respect of socio-economic aspect owing to various reasons but yet some very much humanitarian values, amusing, and incomparable social practices and sense of values remain active and followed enthusiastically. Such as, ‘Maleiya System,’ practiced in the indigenous Chakma society, a kind of practice that is served under voluntary social cooperation, which is also practiced in different names in other indigenous Jumma societies in light of respective languages and perimeters, is a significant social convention. It is a driving force that arouses and strengthens the senses of cooperation, fellow feeling and balanced development extended between a human and another human. Once in those days, practice of stepping forward to help and assist the widows from village to villages and especially, during the bad weather and extreme crisis of the Jum (shifting) cultivators has been noticeably great. Especially, the youth society would remain ahead in this regard.

News has reached that there have been relief distribution drives launched by the Jumma volunteers and organizations in light of the classical practices, among the indigenous Jumma people fallen under grip of food crisis emanating from ‘lockdown’ for prevention of COVID-19 infection. The Hill Engineers Association of Bangladesh, an organization of CHT hill-people Engineers has stood by the people of Sajek area who have become stranded due to on-going lockdown observation amid the situation of COVID-19 infection throughout the country. Members of the organization have distributed relief stuff to some 600 helpless families in 34 villages under Sajek Union in Baghaichhari upazila on 19 April 2020.

The Facebook status of Shiksha Unnoyan Sangstha (Education Development Organization) dated 23 April 2020 reads that at the initiative undertaken by Chakma queen Yan Yan, Advisor to the Chakma Circle, the BRAC-supported United Relief Distribution Program was executed through the Shiksha Unnoyan Sangstha and Tripura Students Forum (TSF) in 9 Upazilas in combating the Covid-19-created hazards.

The Chakma Rani, BRAC, TSF including the concerned Tripura leaders and Zabarang Kalyan Samiti have stood by the poor indigenous people in battling the food crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic in CHT. Altogether 1,689 families have been listed for distribution of Uniting Relief among them. Mainly 2 aspects have been considered while preparing the list for distribution of relief. Firstly, the poor and helpless people who are in food crisis but have not yet received relief from the government or non-government agencies and secondly, priority has been given to those who live in inaccessible areas. The list of relief recipient families has been prepared on the basis of Upazilas according to which it stands: Khagrachhari Sadar 631 families; Dighinala 121 families; Panchhari 114 families; Mahalchhari 150 families, Matiranga 235 families, Guimara 102 families, Manikchhari 116 families, Laxmichhari 100 families and Ramgarh 120 families.

With a view to making the relief available to house-to-house in the remote areas, the Pro-Better Living (PBL) and Unmesh have been jointly working on raising a fund since 5 April 2020. On the 1st day of the New Year according to the Bengali Calendar year, each of the 42 families was distributed with 15 kg rice, 1kg fish malt (chidol), and 1 liter cooking oil – the sum total cost of the relief stuff distributed stands BDT 42,000. After hauling for 2 days from Harina Bazaar via Thegamukh, the relief materials of PBL and Unmesh could reach at Korollyachhari village on 19 April 2020. Water way is the only means of transport and as the river got dried up, the government relief could not reach due to lack of navigability. What is more is that it needs visiting the nooks and corners of the hills without which it would be hard to comprehend the grade of inaccessibility.

It is due to this phenomenon, the service providers always prioritize the remote areas standing by the side of the people living therein more than that of the areas nearby Upazila Headquarters having local trade centers or bazaars. In Mog Para under Bandukbhanga Union of Rangamati Upazila Sadar, 25 families and 15 other families in Kumra Para, altogether 40 families were given rice, dal, salt, onions, cooking oil and soaps as gift.

It is learnt from the Facebook wall of Sijok-based ‘Surjodoy Club’ of Baghaichhari under Rangamati hill district, the youths of Sijok valley have undertaken a great initiative. They say: “Most of our community people are poor. One-third of them work in different Garment Sectors as wage earners. Under the on-going situation, all of them have recently come back to their villages in untold difficulties risking their lives. The reason is that life is the dearest possession of all beings. But they are to face yet another difficult hurdle on returning back home. They will have to stay quarantined for 14 days and as their parents are poor: who is going to feed them for so long?

Under this circumstance, based on opinion of all inhabitants of South Sijok village, we have decided to collect subscription from the well-to-do families to feed the quarantined people under holistic supervision of the UP Ward Member and Club. Thus we are in belief that we will remain safe from the deadly Covid-19.” They assured that they have already ensured quarantine arrangement for at least 40 people.

Shapla Tripura and the Kollol Roaza couple are working hard for day and night to ensure reaching of relief to the people living in remote areas and meanwhile many friends and well-wishers from home and abroad have come forward to show their integral fraternity and to enrich their relief fund meant for the Covid-19-distressed people living in remote areas. As of this day, food stuff of love and integral fellow feelings have been made available to 500 needy families in several Upazilas of Khagrachhari hill district. Apart from it, they have also coordinated the assistance to the known families in various areas as per their demands.

The Tripura Shramik Kallyan Forum, Chittagong City Tripura Welfare Forum and Waksa Baksa Club gave humanitarian helps to the distressed families in Khagrachhari hill district. Abhilash Tripura, on his Facebook wall writes: Though the Covid-19 has made the whole mankind face-to-face with a challenge, it has actually opened up an opportunity to establish an imitable illustration of an outstanding humanity, creative leadership and unprecedented team work in combating the invisible force on the planet. Let there be government aid of any amount, in context of topographical and socio-economic reality, it is only native social and individual initiative can properly manage the multi-faceted impact of the pandemic in CHT. This time, BRAC, the non-government development organization has stood by the hungry and helpless people living in remote areas. The organization, having coordinated with the senior management within the shortest span of time, has arranged financial aid to 3,000 workless families living in remote areas of Khagrachari and Rangamati hill districts.