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EDITORIAL

Coronavirus pandemic, tea gardens & char areas

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Three particular demographic segments of Assam probably require special attention during the present crisis precipitated by the novel Coronavirus pandemic. These are – (i) the 20-lakh strong tea tribes which comprise the huge tea plantation work force, (ii) the estimated 50 lakh Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste communities, and (iii) the nearly one crore immigrant Muslim population. It is a fact that the socio-economic conditions and development indicators of these large segments of Assam’s population are by and large unsatisfactory. According to the latest National Family Health Survey 4 (NHSF-4), one-third of households in Assam are Muslims, 11 per cent of households belong to the Scheduled caste, 13 per cent to the different Scheduled Tribe, and 27 per cent belong to communities classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC). The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) are much above the state and national average in all these communities. The overall Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in Assam is the second worst in the country at 44 deaths in every 1,000 live births. The literacy rates too are alarmingly low in all the districts having sizeable population belonging to these segments. While Assam’s overall literacy rate in the 2011 Census was 72.19% , it is much lower in such districts. In Dhubri, which has a very high percentage of migrant Muslim population, for instance, literacy was only 58.34% in 2011. So is the case in Morigaon, Goalpara, Darrang, Bongaigaon and Barpeta. In ST-majority districts like Udaguri, Karbi Anglong, Chirang, Baksa, Kokrajhar and Dima Hasao too, the situation is no better. The overall healthcare scenario too is also far from satisfactory in these segments and districts, as also the overall level of awareness. About 11% of households across Assam, irrespective of caste, creed and religion do not use a sanitation facility, which means that members of these households practice open defecation. Open defecation is more common among rural households (13%). Though no official data is available on any study about the news media habits of people in these segments and districts, it is a fact that newspaper circulation is low in these districts. Moreover, several lakh young people from these segments are working in various states of the country, many of which, including Kerala, have already reported many cases of novel Coronavirus infection. But then, there is a ray of hope; 86% of rural households in Assam have a mobile phone. Given this situation, these segments are definitely in need of extra attention and precaution. While the on-going campaign against novel Coronavirus has been mostly in English and Assamese, these should also be immediately made available in simpler languages which these segments of our population easily follow. After all, this deadly virus does not distinguish people in terms of caste, creed, language and religion.