In a large saucepan with its base blackened from overuse, Limakumla was busy making tea for hundreds of “guests.” Seated next to her was Asangla, another middle-aged woman, busy buttering slices of bread.
It was an early morning scene at a makeshift kitchen in a quarantine centre set up at a government college in Nagaland’s Dimapur. As many as 245 people who had returned from states outside the northeast region had been placed in quarantine at the centre for 14 days.
Around 20 women, drawn from various localities of the town, were manning the kitchen and doing other regular chores at the centre, as the community participation became an integral part of the cash-strapped state government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteers mostly comprise members of women’s organisations, self-help groups, church and tribal bodies. Besides providing volunteers, these organisations also take care of food, sanitation and other needs of the inmates of the quarantine centres, offloading a major financial burden of the state government.
The monthly receipt of the Nagaland government before the pandemic was ₹732.22 crore, while total expenditure, including salaries, pension, interest payments, power purchase and other recurring expenses, was ₹811.84 crore. So, there was a shortfall of ₹79.62 crore a month, according to state finance department sources.
The deficit is set to increase further as the state has so far spent ₹30 crore from its own resources to combat the pandemic, while it has received only ₹7.42 crore from the Centre and ₹3 crore from the North Eastern Council (NEC) to deal with the crisis.
“Without community participation, it would have been very difficult for the government to incur such a huge expense of running 238 quarantine centres across the state with a cumulative accommodation for over 13,000 people,” said Lolano Patton, public relation officer of the Dimapur administration.
In this community-driven response to prevent the spread of the virus, women outnumbered their male counterparts, particularly in rural areas, reinforcing the general trend of women’s overwhelming participation in many sectors.
Over 10,000 all-women self-help groups in the state have provided several thousand volunteers. In certain districts such as Mon, the district administration’s entire COVID-19 response is women-driven.
Female volunteers provide services such as cooking food, creating awareness about how to prevent the spread of the virus, disinfecting quarantine centres, monitoring those placed in quarantine at villages, helping in the construction of makeshift centres, among others. Besides, they have also chipped in to self-fund production of masks and hand sanitizers.
To salute the efforts of the women, the Mon administration even came out with a short video highlighting the role of women in the fight against COVID-19 to promote the Central government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao initiative.
In Mon, which is one of the remote districts in the state, the Konyak Nyupuh Sheko Khong (KNSK) or the Konyak Mothers’ Association is the “main warrior”. Besides providing volunteers, the KNSK is also equally sharing with the government the expenses in running the quarantine centres.
“Unlike other districts, we place people coming from other states in quarantine centres for 28 days (the institutionalised quarantine period in other districts is 14 days). For the first 14 days, the district administration takes care of food and other needs of the inmates. The remaining stay of 14 days is sponsored by the KNSK,” said K Thavaseelan, deputy commissioner of Mon district.
This longer quarantine period saved the district from the mass spread of the virus, the DC said.
“A group of Chennai returnees had been sent to Mon on May 22, after they tested negative on their arrival in Dimapur. We placed them in quarantine for 28 days. On the 20th day of their stay, we tested them again and found that 21 had contracted the virus,” said Thavaseelan.
As on June 23, the district had 23 active cases, all of them asymptomatic. The state has an overall tally of 347 cases, of which 206 were active as on June 24 (10 am).
At quarantine centres in Mon district, the daily occupancy number of inmates is around 1,200. According to the DC, the administration spends about ₹200 to feed an inmate. This means ₹33,60,000 is being spent for a period of 14 days.
The KNSK and other organisations get donations from government servants, teachers, and other members of the community to fund their COVID-19 mitigation efforts. “It’s very heartening to see how the community is coming together to fight the virus. It’s more special as the community effort is propelled by women power,” said Patton.
The trend is not surprising considering that Naga women’s participation in such important sectors as agriculture is more than men.
According to the annual administrative report (2019-2020) of the state’s economics and statistics department, the percentage of women cultivators is 65.2 per cent. More women work as agricultural labourers (7.3 per cent) compared to men (5.8 per cent).
However, women do not get adequate representation in decision making in the state. Until date, not even a single woman has been elected to Nagaland’s 60-member assembly.