By Silvanus Lamin
It has been more than one and half month since I return to my home village due to corona crisis. I discovered that the corona situation has mostly changed their way of living, practice of rituals, social interaction, religious practices and even economic life. The word corona is in everyone’s tongue. Wherever I go and with whom I interact, they ask me about the situation of corona thinking that I know regarding the future of this newly arrived disease. They ask me when the corona situation will get better, when it will stop spreading and what are the measures and steps of the government to stop and protect all its citizens. I reply them depending on my knowledge and ensuring that my reply could ease them and make them less panic. Actually everyone with whom I interact is in panic when they come to know the outbreak of the corona virus. They become more panic when they learned that the virus has arrived in Sreemangol, their nearby marketing and shopping place. There have been many opinions and conception regarding the corona virus among the communities as well. Some think that the corona virus arrives because humans have committed many sins, some think that the corona virus has been created by scientists and some think that corona virus is consequences of killing many wild animals and degrading the forest. However, inspire of having such concepts regarding covid-19 they are found to be confused regarding the terms isolation and quarantine! They think that once anybody is isolated and imposed to go to self-quarantine they are found corona positive! I tried to remove their confusion explaining that if anyone is isolated and sent to quarantine it does not gurantee that they are corona positive; but they are in observation and suspected. While staying here for the above mentioned times, I experienced the following things which are depicted below:
Lock down village
After learning that the virus has arrived in Sreemangol, the Khasi communities in this area made initiative to lock down their villages. The word lock down is called ‘Bon chnong’ in war language, the language the Khasis in Bangladesh practice most. When they lock down their villages they made temporary gates in all entrances of the village. They appointed 4 people every day to guard the newly made gates so that no outsiders could come and get into their village. The villagers with the instruction from the ‘Headman’ take initiative to guard the gates in turns. However, Nirola village executed lock down from 4th April, 2020. After few days of the lock down the youths at the village take responsibility to spray medicines around the village areas to kill the germs, if there are any! When the lock down is in effect no one inside the village could go outside. If there is any emergency case, particularly health problems, one has to inform the headman and take permision to go outside for treatment. If anyone comes from outside for health treatment they are told to take bath before they enter into their house and medicine is sprayed on the the vehicle that they used to go outside. The villagers practice health instructions which they learn from the elders and from the government broadcasted through TV channel. They use hand sanitizers, wash their hands for 20 secons, drink mildly boiled water, take ginger and lemon made tea and entake Vitamin C. They also arrange prayer every day during the dusk in their own houses with only their family members attending. They think that only the creator God could save them from the attack of corona virus.
In hunt of protein contained foods in the forest
The Khasi punji or village was locked down on 4 April and the locked down was slightly lifted on 4 May, 2020. The locked down was executed for exactly one month. In these period of times, the Khasis could neither go outside their village nor the hawlkers from outside could come to sell commodities and other agriculture produces. Thus, the Khasis depending on their indigenous knowledge extracted foods and othere resources from the forest. They hunted fishes in small streams and canal, collected uncultivated vegetables such as mashrooms, spinaches and wild potatoes from the forest. Mrs Minary Pohtam said, ‘We have to collect prortein foods from the forest so that we could get survived. The government suggested us to eat protein foods. We could not go to market for buying protein contained foods that is why we collect them from the forest using our local knowledge and experience.’ Since all the members at the village collected foods and hunted fishes that is why the availability of these natural foods and resources is rarely found. The Khasis think that if the resources and foods are over extracted from the forest it could result it the loss of these foods and degrade the forest. However, because of the corona virus and lock down situation the Khasis have no means but extracted the resources from the forest. In addition, while collecting the resources they ensure that they collected in a sustainable manner so that these resources could not get extinct from the forest. Having the thousands years of experience in collecting resources from the forest in a sustainable way, the Khasis hope that some day the forest will appear as usual as it looks.
Due to the lock down situation impacted by corona virus the Khasi could not market their agricultural products such as betel leaf, lemon, pineapple, banana and jackfruits in the market. The paikar (locally called) means buyers of their products had been prohibited to enter into the villages. Due to not being able to market or sell their produces to the paikars the Khasi counted huge economic loss. The small farmers in particular, are in hardship situation because they have to use their small saving to buy bread so that they could surive. Jameson Marlia thus said, ‘I am really in hardship because I cannot sell my betel leaves in the market. I have no cash left in my savings. Now how will I survive?’ On the other hand, there are thousands of workers (Unregistered tea garden laborers, Garo) who work in the betel leaf gardens of the Khasis in Sreemongol. This portion of people depend on the Khasis for their life and livelihood. They live from hand to mouth. Because of the lock down they could not come to work in the betel leave garden which means that they could not earn. Being not able to earn any cash this portion of people have been in severe crisis. Besides, they have no access to the relief provided by the government or other groups of people and organizations. The Khasis thus, tried to help their perspective workers which means that they have to take loans from the money lenders to help their workers survive. Sachin Areng said, ‘I will surely die if the owner of the betel leaf garden did not support me in this trying situation. I am greateful to him for staying beside me.’ In addition, the betel leave buyers also in grave crisis because they could not buy betel leaves from the Khasis due to the lock down situation. Hundreds of the buyers depend on the betel leaves of the Khasis for their small trade. Due to not being able to buy and sell betel leaves and other subsidiary products they also count economic loss. Emon Rahman while interacting over cell phone said, ‘We depend on the betel leaves and other agriculture products of the Khasis for our livelihood. We have been sharing a very good trading relationship with the Khasis for years. Due to the lock down we could not buy or sell the products which cost us economic loss.’
Uncertainity of education life
The children of the Khasis study in different academic institutions such as primary, high school, colleges and universities. The children who study in primary level can continue their education staying at their own house. But those who study in high schools, colleges and universities have to stay in hostels and rented houses because of the absence of high schools, colleges and universities in the Khasi located areas in Bangldesh. However, most of the students who stay outside their residence for education are found to study on the colleges and universities located in Dhaka and Sylhet. The corona pendemic has stopped their academic activities. The primary schools are still remained closed in the Khasi villages. The primary going students are found to spend their times iddly. The same is seen among the high school students. They are found to play indoor games with their freinds forgetting that they have lessons to learn. The college and university students are found to work in their own betel leave gardens with their parents. Staying in the village for the last two months these students are found to be disconnected with their academic lessons. Nonetheless, there is ongoing class telecasted in TV channels and online for the students in Bangladesh. But the Khasi students do not have access to those programs due to absence of continous electricity and internet connection. There is electricity connection in the villages but it has been seen that the electricity seldom get available during the TV programs as loadshadding is a common scenario in the Khasi villages. A university student Rubel Dhar thus said, ‘I have lessons to learn but cannot concentrate on it due to lack of congenial environment for study here in the village. I have no access to the TV and online class due to lack of electricity and internet connection. I just spend my time going to our betel leave garden with my parents. We all students at the village have counted huge loss due to the corona virus.’
And a ray of hope
In spite of being panic due to corona virus crisis the Khasis hope that some day the situation will come into normal stage. They arranged prayer in their own house everyday with their family members to pray to God so that He comes to rescue the humankind from the pandemic corona virus. They pray for the well being of all nationalities and other life forms. They hope since God is powerful He will surely come forward to rescue them. The Khasi in spite of the corona situation has never lost hopes, they are more conscious and follow the health instructions of the government to protect their area from the attack of corona. So far, no Khasis have been found corona positive in the whole Khasi areas in Sylhet division. On the other hand, the community has been practicing a life and livelihood which is very much dependent on nature. They find they way to live and hope from the nature staying close to it. The lessons they learn from the nature has enabled them to be optimistic and inertly strong. We hope the pandemic situation of the corona virus surely will end someday.