By the time truth is able to tie its shoelaces, untruths have run marathons—such is rural Uttar Pradesh’s situation in preparation for the deadly COVID-19. When he delivered an address to the nation on 19 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for a “Janata Curfew,” or a people’s curfew, three days later. He urged India’s citizens to gather in their balconies and to beat pots and pans or sound a conch shell, to thank healthcare workers that are at the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. As soon as the prime minister’s address ended, rumours began to spread in rural Uttar Pradesh. People understood the clapping and thumping to be religious practices, while others ascribed differing purposes to the curfew Modi had imposed. “There is no awareness campaign of the UP government in this,” Bual Yadav, who lives in Johinarendra village of Kushinagar district, said. “People are still negligent. Very few people are washing their hands with soap regularly or wearing masks.”
Priyanka Rajbhar is a research student at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency. She married last year, and is currently staying with her in-laws, in Ramgarhwa village. “My mother-in-law said that the whole village is lighting diyas outside their homes, as many diyas as there are men in the house.” Her mother-in-law told her that these diyas have to be placed at the threshold of their homes in the evening, after taking a bath, and that the family members have to make imprints of their feet with turmeric at the entrance. “All the older women beat thalis every evening to ward off coronavirus,” Rajbhar said.