Malegaon’s Remarkable Turnaround in the Fight Against Covid-19

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Dr Arti Singh, the superintendent of police, Nashik rural, was behind the remarkable turnaround in the fight against Covid-19 in Nashik.

The powerloom hub of India underwent a major crisis in April and May when Covid-19 wreaked damage and took many lives. But encouraging work by the police, other government officials and importantly religious leaders has seen a massive turnaround

Ashok Kumar | Clarion India

MUMBAI – It has seen one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the Covid-19 tragedy in India. It happened in Malegaon, about 250 km north-east of Mumbai, and having a population of nearly a million, with about 80 per cent being Muslims.

At the peak of the crisis in April-May, a large number of people used to succumb to Covid-19 daily. But in a remarkable turnaround story, it is now down to just two or three.

And steering the powerloom hub through one of its most critical periods is a tough woman police officer (who is also a medical doctor), Dr Arti Singh, the superintendent of police, Nashik rural.

Speaking to Clarion India in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Singh – who was the first woman Indian Police Service officer (2006 batch) in the backward and militancy-hit district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, and also currently the first woman IPS officer in Nashik district – spoke of the tense days in April and May in the city.

“It was a Herculean task for us, and I had to camp in Malegaon for two months to turn the tide,” says Singh. “I moved around on foot for hours, meeting Muslim leaders, ordinary people and importantly, encouraging the police constables.”

Dr Arti Singh, the superintendent of police, moved around on foot for hours, meeting Muslim leaders, ordinary people and importantly, encouraging the police constable to encourage them to fight against Coronavirus.

More than 250 policemen were infected with Covid-19, three of them had died and there appeared to be some demotivation. Singh went to the Covid care centre in Malegaon where 40 constables were undergoing treatment and assured them that they would get all help.

“It was a daredevil task for me, as the social media was giving out scary news,” she recalls. “You need a strong leader in times of such crisis and turmoil. I assured our men that I was there in Malegaon, and that I was a doctor and they would emerge out of the centre soon. Counselling plays a major role at such times.”

Malegaon is an overcrowded place and there are three pockets where more than a lakh of people live in a one sq km area, making it one of the most congested cities in the world.

Singh points out that 75 per cent of the population in Malegaon is in the below-poverty category. In these congested areas, 20 people live in single rooms of 10×10 ft; one lot of 10 work in the powerlooms in the morning shift and return by evening, when the second lot goes to work.

But the Covid-19 tragedy saw all of them having to make do in a small room for days at a stretch. There was tension as well, with some “outrageous videos,” doing the rounds on social media, talking about the deadly virus.

“I met the maulanas, political and local leaders and convinced them to talk to the people and explain to them the dangers of Covid-19,” says Singh. “We distributed Urdu pamphlets as well.”

The maulanas urged the people not to go out even during Ramadan (in 2019, for instance, there used to be about 2 lakh people out at night during the holy month in Malegaon).

Close interaction with the religious leaders saw the residents follow the Covid-19 rules relating to movement and wearing of masks and taking other preventive measures.

But most of the private clinics and health centres were closed, so Singh urged the doctors to open them and treat patients. Gradually, as things began to improve, she sought the help of other senior government leaders and encouraged the powerlooms to start operations again.

All these measures have helped bring about dramatic changes. The doubling period has gone up from 2.2 days in April to 112 now, which is the best in the state. The rate of recovery of 80-plus per cent is also higher than Maharashtra’s average of 54 per cent.

When Singh recently walked with her men through the streets of Malegaon, many of the residents clapped eagerly, encouraging her to lead the team and battle the Covid-19 crisis. And the city has now returned to near-normalcy, with people going about with their usual brisk activities in most places.

Community leaders have also been active in tackling the crisis. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind leaders encouraged people to visit mohalla clinics and adopt safe practices. Indeed, a ‘Malegaon Model’ is emerging and experts are studying it, hoping to replicate it elsewhere in the country.

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