India: Kerala’s women-led Kottayam district fares well in COVID-19 times

Thiruvananthapuram: Two days after the demise of Kerala’s centenarian woman Communist leader K.R. Gouriamma at the age of 102, a district in the state with an all-woman team at the helm is demonstrating how the COVID-19 pandemic can be dealt with efficiently and with soft hands.

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Kottayam district, which shot into national limelight 32 years ago when its capital town by the same name became the first town in India to be fully literate in 1989, is now setting multiple examples in efficiently steering through the pandemic days.

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All-woman team

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Kottayam’s district panchayat president, district collector and district superintendent of police are all women – Nirmala Jimmy, M. Anjana and Shilpa Dyavaiah respectively.

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The district has its daily share of cases, but Kottayam is dealing with the pandemic with multiple initiatives including establishment of oxygen parlours, NGOs raising resources in money and kind for virus-affected persons, and even individuals chipping in with their contributions.

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Sense of community

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Numerous instances have been reported from different parts of the state, of people and organisations pitching in with help to those affected.

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In Kanjirapally, a team of youth decided to donate blood to the local blood bank ahead of taking their preventive vaccinations, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to donate blood for several weeks post vaccination.

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In Changanacherry, another town in the district, a parents’ organisation is running a ‘rice kit challenge’ to collect rice kits for distribution to the needy. In Karukachal, a local panchayat member Korason Zachariah has given his car free of cost to anyone needing transport to a hospital or quarantine centre. To complement that gesture, a youth in the locality identified as Aneesh Jacob has offered to be chauffeur, also free of charge.

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Empathy everywhere

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In Kooropada in the district, when an inmate of the local panchayat’s shelter home, M. Karthyayani, died at a hospital, the panchayat president Sheela Cherian and her team received the body from the hospital and gave her a decent cremation.

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Such gestures have been pointed out to be in stark contrast to incidents of even family members abandoning bodies of their dear departed and news of abandoned bodies floating into Bihar from Uttar Pradesh in the north of the country.

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Empathy towards animals during the pandemic was also captured by a local daily, featuring a photograph of a puppy being administered drip under a tree at the veterinary hospital in Kottayam because the hospital could not accommodate all animals being brought there.

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Anticipating oxygen need

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While most of India is grappling with oxygen shortages, the St Thomas Hospital in Chethipuzha in Kottayam district sits pretty with an oxygen generator from the US that produces roughly 500 litres of oxygen per day.

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“We had anticipated the need for large quantities of oxygen during the days of the floods in Kerala in 2018,” the hospital’s senior facilities manager Joseph Varghese told Gulf News. It is the largest-of-its-kind facility in any hospital in Kerala, he said.

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Future-focused

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Kottayam district also has a technology business incubation centre, Startups Valley, at the Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, where 34 startups are researching or working on ideas that will impact the district and the wider world outside.

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Recently, a 12-year-old boy from the district, Unmesh Shaji created a sanitizer-dispensing robot. He used parts from a toy car to keep the robot’s cost down, fabricating it for only Rs 1,600.

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Respect for law

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District superintendent of police, Shilpa Dyavaiah, a native of Bengaluru, told Gulf News that keeping law and order in the district was made easy by the high education levels and law-abiding nature of local residents.

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“Whenever there is a crisis, people come forward to help. It is very heartening to see a district where people are so well-behaved, educated and co-operative”, Dyavaiah said.

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Communist veteran Gouriamma came close to becoming Kerala’s first woman chief minister. She would have been proud to see Kottayam’s performance under the leadership of women.

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