In India, in recent weeks, people living near rivers have been shocked by the many bodies that drove by. It was the first obvious sign that Corona is causing many victims in rural areas. How much exactly is very difficult to say.
Many people from rural areas who are suspected to have died of corona have not been tested in advance and therefore have not been registered as fatalities of the disease. Of people who do not die in a hospital, death is often not recorded at all, which makes the official figures very unreliable. A lot of information comes from local journalists, who literally go from village to village.
Abdul Alim Jafri (30) is such a journalist in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He lives with his parents in the regional capital Lucknow, but also travels a lot in the Gorakhpur district, where he originally came from. “I have many friends, former schoolmates and other contacts in the region. Through WhatsApp I get to hear what‘s happening in the villages. If that’s something striking, I‘m going to go for it.”
Death after breathing problems
The day we talk to him, Jafri follows a tip about three hours drive from the city of Gorakhpur, the capital of the district of the same name. In the village of Bairia Khas, fifteen people have died in a short time. But this can not be seen in the official figures.
From the taxi, Jafri calls the village head, Barrister Yadav. It confirms that there are “at least fifteen”. Most of them had respiratory problems, but they couldn’t be tested for corona before they died.
Jafri goes from village to village and talks to the children of parents who have died:
The number of people who died of corona in India has been reported below anyway. Officially, it‘s over 300,000. According to experts The New York Times spoke to, in reality there are at least twice as many, and probably more than five times as many. How many more people have died than usual may not become clear until the next census. It was actually scheduled this year, exactly ten years after the previous one, but has been postponed because of corona.
In villages, actual numbers are even more difficult to find out than in cities. The villagers do not like to get tested and local care centers lack test kits and manpower. But at least in Uttar Pradesh state, according to Jafri, it is also because the government does not want to show reality.
At the end of April, many journalists saw with their own eyes that hospitals in Uttar Pradesh were full and that there were oxygen shortages. But the prime minister of the state, the monk Yogi Adityanath of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s party BJP, appeared on TV stating that “there was no lack of beds, no lack of oxygen and no lack of life-saving medicines”.
“ Some people are trying to create panic on purpose,” said Adityanath. Later, in a video conversation with journalists, he said that those who “spread rumors” would be dealt with by strict laws.
Many teachers died
why a doctor who works for the government wants to talk to Jafri anonymously. He‘s afraid his contract won’t be extended otherwise. Also, according to him, the actual number of coronadodes is much higher than the official figures.
“ Recently, there was a statement from the Secretary of Health that three teachers have died throughout Uttar Pradesh. This is absolutely not true,” the doctor says. According to education unions, at least 1600 teachers died in the state, after having been obliged to assist in the village elections held at the end of April and early May.
Jafrica‘s work, which can be read on the English-language news site Newsclick, does not go unnoticed. “I get threatening calls,” he says casually. “Every day, it’s quite normal here.” His visit to the villages with Nieuwsuur has also been noticed. “Villagers are pleased with the attention. But government officials slightly less.”
According to Jafri, it seems that the government does not want to accept the crisis, which in his view is obvious, and does not want to tackle it fully. “Because people are still waiting, for all kinds of things. They need to be tested and they need medication. People die, with covid symptoms. So we keep going into the villages. That is what is needed, it is our duty.”