Kerekoppa: Where the village is a womb

Kerekoppa: Where the village is a womb

Since the lockdown though, a sense of unease has made a place for itself here.

Kerekoppa is a fairly typical Malnad village near Sirsi in the Western Ghats. Most villages here largely comprise agro-horticulturists, with paddy fields and areca orchards. A sizeable number of people go out to work as hired labour, and some work in the cities. Although unlike the distress migration of northern Karnataka, this region has seen a sizeable population of young people move to urban areas for employment. 

Many have returned home in response to the recent corona health crisis.  

For latest updates and live news on coronavirus, click here

In the weeks preceding the lockdown, life was a mixture of some fear and hearsay about this mysterious virus. Yet, everyday life continued with a pace and rhythm that had a reassuring ring of normalcy to it. Since the lockdown though, a sense of unease has made a place for itself here.

Before the lockdown, panic in several villages fuelled by a false rumour that domestic fowl had caught the virus (confused with Bird Flu), led to a mass killing of poultry. This included the horrific act of burying huge numbers of them alive. The rumour could not be thwarted on time. A senior vet at the Animal Husbandry Dept in Sirsi regretted this and clarified that the virus does not affect fowl. 

Existing prejudices, suspicions and rifts between religious communities have come to the fore with the misinformation generated and promoted by TV and social media. They now have a new bandwagon to hitch on to – the corona. Others express concern over the disruptions that the lockdown entails. 

Chandrika, who works as a farmhand, is worried about an uncertain future. “People left the village to work in big cities like Bengaluru. They have come back home to be safe. It is hell, no doubt, to be trapped in a room in the city. This is alright for the short term. But how will anyone buy supplies from the panchayat authorised vans, if there is no money and people cannot go out and work? So many villagers can’t go for daily wage work. This is going to hit our lives deeply.” 

She also sees how fortunate her community here is, in stark contrast to what she has been seeing on television, of the plight of migrant and daily-wage labourers. 

Local economy suffers 

Rafiq makes his living running a taxi service, selling small amounts of fish from Sirsi to the villagers, and trading in areca and chogaru (the liquid left over from boiling areca nuts while processing, which is used for dyeing). “Everything has come to a standstill because of the lockdown. I am just staying put at home. We will have to manage somehow,” he notes with resignation.

The mid and larger farmers wonder if the price of areca will crash, and fear a significant economic impact. Otherwise there is no talk of stocks and shares, and the fallen market. The only bulls and bears are the ones in the field and forest. 

Vasumathi from a neighbouring village is in her late 60s and a grandmother and homemaker, who tends her orchard and home garden. When asked if she is worried about fresh supplies, she says, “Not at all. I have my home garden to give me all the vegetables, greens and fruits I want. Life goes on as usual. I hope this passes soon for everyone’s good.” 

Revathi, from another village, is also a homemaker and horticulturist. “What is happening has a big impact on all of us. We are going to suffer economically too. But it’s nothing compared to what the destitute and poor are going through. It makes me cry to watch reports of their suffering. It is not fair.” 

Track sate-wise confirmed coronavirus cases here

The ongoing situation has been a reality check for many, who have responded with empathy. 

Recognising the lessons of this crisis, Revathi says, “I have truly understood what food security means. We have productive lands in our area and they give us their bounty. It is for us to value this and keep alive our local food culture and farming practices.” 

Sandeep is a 29-year-old farmer who sees the logic of the lockdown, but feels that “the whole thing was not planned properly, and as a result many crores of people are suffering for no fault of theirs.”

“The supply-demand chain has also been affected and farmers are again at the mercy of others,” he adds. 

While washing his hands for the umpteenth time, he wonders about the pandemic itself. “In my grandparents’ time, hardly anyone moved out much, somehow things seemed more contained. Issues seem to explode on a larger scale now. Rabble-rousers are waiting to create the disease of fear. We need to keep strong and healthy, take all precautions and go about our work.”

In the meanwhile, leaf litter for the orchard has to be gathered, the areca de-husked, firewood collected and stored in preparation for the monsoon, and a myriad other chores of a busy summer attended to. The village is coping and scaffolding itself the best it can.

While the small picture and the relative security of everyday life here seem comfortable for now compared to other areas, the larger canvas and clear vision for the social, ecological and economic future of this region, as of the world, is blurred.