In this crucial time of the COVID19 that rendered thousands of migrant labourers, students, medical patients as well as travellers in a difficult situation outside their home, many states including Sikkim has already taken an initiative to bring them back home but with strict norms of 14 days quarantine at designated quarantine centres.
Likewise, the GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) has also started an initiative with online registration to bring the resident of the GTA region back to their respective home.
But what looks worried is the provision of self-quarantine at home. It is stated in their online portal that “those who clear the screening must strictly follow the self-quarantine for 14 days at their respective house and also maintain the social distance even with their family members”. However, given the context of social structure, housing patterns and community interdependency in Darjeeling Hills, it is extremely difficult to maintain social distance, let alone home quarantine.
As reflected from current trends of housing patterns in the Hills and also considering poor housing facilities in tea gardens, forest villages and other rural areas, majority of residents in the Hills does not have sufficient space for home quarantine. Also, people in the Hills are heavily interdependent on one another in their everyday activities.
One pertinent example would be water collection from the dhara (spring) and Municipality public water supply. Such form of common resource sharing that is indeed a basic necessity of everyday life makes home quarantine in the Hills challenging. Also, it must be clear that scanning alone is not sufficient to detect symptoms of the COVID 19 as asymptomatic cases are assuming to be higher in India.
Thus, there is a need to consider alternative provisions of quarantine in order to accommodate those coming from outside. One way would be identity those who does not have provision for home quarantine and provides them with alternative quarantine centres.
Also, the GTA decision to form a surveillance committee with the help of the head of Samaj will be flawed in its own manner. Since, most of the Samaj’s head are voluntarily elected and not in an accomplished position to handle such a pandemic situation, it is administratively challenging to bestow power on such individuals. Also, it will encourage many to involve in the practice of favouritism/nepotism while following quarantine norms. During this lockdown, some samaj has done fairly well maintain social distancing while some has done nothing except printing poster, so it will pose regional challenges to administer home quarantine.
Nonetheless, this is not to say that people should not be allowed to come back, of course, we should bring our people back to our home during this crucial time but there should be proper quarantine norms as well as “facilities” in order to protect our community, people and region. I know that many who care for their family, community and place will voluntarily quarantine themselves but given the above-stated challenges, it will be difficult for them to maintain it. Thus, providing facilities will enhance the social and mental capability to fight this pandemic.