The fear of CAA and NRC hampers COVID-19 screening in Jaipur’s Ramganj hotspot

23 April 2020
Of the atleast 723 COVID-19 positive cases in Jaipur, 525 are from Ramganj.
Vishal Bhatnagar / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Of the atleast 723 COVID-19 positive cases in Jaipur, 525 are from Ramganj.
Vishal Bhatnagar / NurPhoto / Getty Images

On 26 March, a team of government officials visited the home of Zarina Akhtar, a 68-year-old resident of Ramganj, a Muslim-dominated locality in Jaipur. Akhtar lives in a four-storey house deep inside the densely packed lanes of Ramganj. The officials asked for information about her family members—their names, ages and if there were people aged above 60 living in her home.

 Akhtar said she and several others in the neighbourhood were apprehensive and suspicious of the team. Earlier in the month, Akhtar and other women from the area had participated in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. The Ramganj residents thought the team’s visit was connected to the CAA and the NRC. “We had known that government officials conducting the NRC would want to know similar details from us. There was this suspicion of their activities and many people from the area were reluctant to cooperate with them,” Akhtar said. The government officials were in fact conducting house-to-house surveys to monitor the outbreak of COVID-19 in the area after a resident in the locality tested positive for the virus.

Ramganj is located inside Jaipur’s walled city. With a population of at least three lakh people, it is among the most densely-populated areas in the city. It has now become a hotspot for the COVID-19 outbreak in Jaipur. As of 22 April, Rajasthan had 1,868 COVID-19 positive cases, with 723 in Jaipur. According to the Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma, of these at least 525 are from Ramganj.

 Local health officials told me that screening patients in the area had been difficult. “Screening and contact tracing in Ramganj and nearby areas has been a herculean task,” Meena Ahuja, a medical officer at Ramganj, said. “When we started enquiring about the number of residents and details of elderly, most of the households were non-cooperative. They not only returned us empty handed but also doubted our intentions. They thought we are there for something else. But we had to intensify door-to-door surveys.” Referring to Auxiliary Nurse Midwifes, and Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA workers, she added, “We have deployed 250 teams. Each team is comprised of three members, an ANM, ASHA Sahyogini and a constable. Now we have also started taking the support of local influencers for door-to-door survey.” In addition, around 1,100 policemen have been deployed to enforce the lockdown and assist frontline health workers.

 The first infected person in Ramganj was a 45-year-old man who had returned from a business trip to Oman on 12 March. He tested positive for COVID-19 on 26 March. On 27 March, the local administration imposed a curfew in a one-kilometre radius of the area where the man lived. The same day, a 47-year-old man who was a close friend of the first patient also tested positive, followed by 10 of the man’s family members.

According to the Rajasthan health department, the first patient who returned from Oman had met more than 60 people from various parts of Jaipur before he was tested positive, leading to a massive crisis for the government officials. The health department began tracing his contacts and conducted extensive surveys in Ramganj.

On 8 April, Rohit Kumar Singh, the additional chief secretary in the Rajasthan health department, shared data regarding the surveys on a WhatsApp group of health journalists. According to that data, 266 teams from the health department had visited more than 22,000 houses and surveyed 1.1 lakh people in Ramganj. At least 83 cases of people suffering from influenza-like illness, or ILI, were identified and 576 samples collected. On 7 April, curfew was imposed in an area comprising ten police stations around Ramganj, cutting it off with the rest of Jaipur. On 13 April, 28 new cases were reported from various other parts of the walled city including Neelagarh, Purani Basti, Patang Bazar and Subhash Chowk.

Tabeenah Anjum is an independent journalist and a visual storyteller. Born and brought up in Kashmir, she is presently based in Rajasthan.

Keywords: COVID-19 Jaipur coronavirus coronavirus lockdown Citizenship (Amendment) Act National Register of Citizens