Women are at the forefront of the battle against the novel coronavirus, and it’s not just the rural healthcare workers or sahiyas who are screening the thousands of labourers who have returned to Jharkhand in the wake of the nationwide lockdown.
Members of sakhi mandals or women’s self-help groups have so far made more than 5 lakh triple-layered masks and over 2 lakh bottles of hand sanitisers in 22 of the 24 districts of the state. Now they are lending a hand to the state to address the shortfall in personal protective equipment (PPE). They have produced 2,148 PPE so far.
The state’s 2.40 lakh sakhi mandals, each with 10-15 members, function under the Jharkhand Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) that is a special purpose vehicle under state rural development department.
“The sakhi mandals have always risen to the challenge and it is heartening to see that during this time of the Covid pandemic, even with our state’s limited resources they have shown their resilience once again and shouldered the responsibility to meet the crisis in the health sector. We are also thankful to the respective district administration for reposing faith in the women sakhi mandals and providing us with necessary raw materials,” said Kumar Vikash, programme manager, communications, JSLPS.
The sakhi mandals’ role has won plaudits from across the political spectrum as well.
“I can only salute these women who are the real heroes in our fight against Covid-19 in the remote villages with our depleted resources,” state health minister Banna Gupta told The Telegraph on Tuesday. “We have seen in history how women have risen to the challenge confronting the society, and this is another example. I would advise all our MLAs who have been provided Rs 25 lakh by the state government as fund for Covid-19 to help these sakhi mandals.”
At the all-party meeting convened by chief minister Hemant Soren on April 10, Ajsu Party chief and Silli MLA Sudesh Mahto had said: “Other than health workers we should also take care of the safety of members of sakhi mandals who are offering exemplary service.”
According to JSLPS data, sakhi mandals in 22 districts have made 5,15,273 three-layered masks and 2,29,145 bottles of sanitisers till Monday.
The raw materials are provided by the district administration and the products are examined by the civil surgeon and district epidemiologist to ensure they meet criteria laid down by WHO (World Health Organization). Each mask is priced between Rs 10 and Rs 20 while the sanitisers, available in bottles of 100ml and 200ml, are priced between Rs 20 and Rs 50.
The women are not only manufacturing the sanitisers but are packaging them and selling them in the market.
“Women also sell these products at road side stalls in villages in the morning with strict instructions to maintain social distancing. Till now PPE production is confined to districts which place orders and provide us raw materials,” said Kumar Vikash of the JSLPS.
In some places, the sakhi mandals have also joined forces with the state in identifying people coming from outside and helping in administering quarantine protocols. In other parts, sakhi mandal didis (sisters) are providing emergency banking services, helping villagers in getting money to sustain their lives amid the nationwide lockdown.