BHOPAL: At 9 on an April morning, Ranjana Dwivedi, a 43-year-old Asha worker, was waiting for a boat with her husband Sanjay Dwivedi along the Tamas river. She had to reach Gurguda hamlet, 20km off her village, Kauni Rukauli in Rewa district. She had to inform the villagers about how to keep the coronavirus away.
Because of the lockdown, many workers lost their jobs. Therefore, many were about to arrive at Gurguda from different parts of the country. As soon as she came to know about it, she wanted to go to Gurguda to make the villagers aware about the corona protocols before the stealthy killer could spread its tentacles. As the entire country was under lockdown and the river banks were empty her husband accompanied her. The blazing sun made her sweat. She wiped the beads of perspiration with a handkerchief.
Usually, the Tamas is dotted with boats. But, because of the lockdown, there was none. As Ranjana was getting edgy, Sanjay was consoling her. Suddenly, a boat appeared like a black dot on the silver water. Ranjana’s heart leapt up in joy. She says the boatman knew her well. Immediately after recognising her, he speeded up and reached the spot where she and her husband were standing. Upon getting off the boat, she had to walk more than three kilometers. She reached the village and got down to work. She called all the village women and began to talk to them about the corona protocols.
Ranjana says initially, it was difficult to educate them about the corona norms, as they laughed it off saying corona is nothing but an imaginative fear. She says she did not give up. She took it up as a challenge that she would not let that silent killer enter the village. No sooner had the thought struck her than she plunged into action. As she is a dab hand at painting, she drew the village through sketch lines and told a story through an imaginative character, whose etches were also made as part of her yarn.
The portrait delineated that had people followed the norms, the disease would have never affected them. Ranjana says she began to post that and many other paintings made with the help of her son on social media. That gradually began to work.
She says she is the lone Asha worker in the village inhabited by 500 people who belong to boatman and shepherd communities. As they have no formal education, they don’t easily accept something new. Ranjana says she has been working there since 2011, but getting to the village is an uphill task. There are two ways — one is through the woods and hillocks and the other is by the river.
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The forested road is shorter than the river route, but Ranjana says that way may be short but is risky. There are wild animals and dacoits. Therefore, she rides a boat at 9am to reach the village and returns home at 4pm. On her way to the village, there are many tiny mud-packs with tattered roofs. Those who live there know her well. So she is not scared. The trek she undertakes daily is perilous as well as strenuous.
That journey produced results. Her hard work stopped the virus at the border of the village. She says no corona case has been detected there; whereas many were found in the nearby hamlets. An international organisation in the USA, National Public Radio (INPR.ORG), recognised her work. Out of 19 women, they have selected her as one of the three most influential females in the world for working hard to check the coronavirus.
Ranjana says her husband has always stood by her. As far as her becoming an Asha worker goes, she got inspiration from her mother who, too, was an Asha worker. She says, “It’s her mission. She doesn’t work for money. All her weariness wears off when she comes across a healthy woman or a strong child with a smiling face.” As she always thinks about the village and about its kids, her son says, “Maa, I’m also a child of yours!”