‘It Was A Long Wait; Happy To Be Back In School’

Agamjot Singh, a Class 8 student of Ekam Public School in Mehatpur, Punjab, says he is happy to be back in a normal classroom as it allows him to interact with his friends and teachers in person

I am a student of Ekam Public School studying in Class 8. For nearly a year since the lockdown was announced in March 2020, our schools remained closed. Even though students from Class 9 to 12 were allowed to attend regular classes on school premises for the past one month, the rest of us were attending online classes.

So I am very happy and excited to be re-joining school. In fact I was eagerly waiting for the school to reopen. Not only do we learn better in the school environment, the constant interaction with friends keeps us happy. While attending online classes, the level of interaction wasn’t the same. Our teachers also seem very happy to have us back.

My class has a total strength of 43 students but on the first day of reopening, only 22 students, i.e. about half the students were present. The school had sent out a directive that any student feeling even slightly unwell should not attend school.

ALSO READ: ‘Online Classes Drain The Parents’

However, there were restrictions and safety protocol for the students who were attending school. We weren’t allowed to go to the cafeteria (it was closed) or even use the playground. The school authorities took great care to sanitize the premises regularly. Even though our temperature-screening were not done on entering school, a strict regime was followed to ensure that everyone was wearing masks and sanitizing their hands regularly. The washrooms were also very clean.

Singh is well aware of Covid-19 safety protocols

I take a school bus to reach school and it was also in a spick and span condition. And everyone took care and personal responsibility to keep it clean.

I wasn’t scared at all to be attending school and neither were my parents. And now that the vaccination process is about to start, whatever little fear we might have had has also vanished. In fact, my father himself had contracted coronavirus a few months ago and now we are very aware of the symptoms, the correct steps and precautions to take.

Even though we children love screen time and are quite technically aware and adept at handling gadgets and newer apps, yet I believe nothing can replace the charm and ease of normal classroom learning. We are young so it doesn’t affect our eyes if they are glued to the screen or have earphones plugged in for long hours, but with increased study load as we advance to senior classes, book learning is better for our health.

‘Police Band Gave A Guard Of Honour To 1st Vaccinated Lot’

Dr Arun Gaur, medical superintendent of Mahatma Gandhi Hospital in Bhilwara, one of the first Covid hotspots in India, recounts the vaccination launch and the battle against the pandemic

For the vaccination on the launch day, January 16 that is, I personally invited the frontline staff enrolled for the serum shot. We had enrolled 900 persons from our hospital which not only included doctors but also nursing staff, lab technicians, computer operators, sweepers, guards and the canteen staff – in equal numbers. We included all these persons in the first list as this team has been working tirelessly since the pandemic outbreak in March, 2020.

I am proud to say that we successfully vaccinated 100 persons on the first day. There had been some apprehensions, even among frontline workers, regarding the vaccine and its after-effects. So, each person was kept under observation for half an hour after being vaccinated. I am glad that none of them showed any side effects.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination’

So, after the process was over, we organised a guard of honour by the police band for the first batch. We also issued an appreciation certificate to all of them. The district administration also supported us in managing this. The district collector and SP had joined us and felicitated the workers.

Today, as I look back at our battle against pandemic, I take pride in our efforts. When Bhilwara became a Covid-19 hotspot, the challenges were unique and unknown. No one knew about the novel virus, how it spread, how a sample was to be collected, or how to treat the patient. But the challenges also motivated us to fight back. Fortunately, not a single case was referred to any outside facility. On the contrary, we saw patients coming in from other districts, even states, to Bhilwara for treatment in the past six months. I see this as an achievement.

We were greatly supported by our families, the administration, the state government and health workers. We formed a critical care team, made all decisions in a group, took suggestions from every faculty member be it a physician or a pediatrician and involved them. We were the first to start some of the investigations that were required in the treatment. We even managed a C-section of a Covid-19 patient who delivered twins. There were anxious moments about the new-born health but the infection was not transmitted.

ALSO READ: ‘Ignore Fake New, Vaccines Are A Must’

The credit also goes to the state leadership. Our chief minister Ashok Gehlot was directly in contact with us after the district was declared a hotspot. He provided all necessary support that we required, including RT-PCR testing machines, 40 ventilators, other resources, and a help desk. The support from the media was also unprecedented.

I believe every achievement brings an extra responsibility on your shoulders. I still have to protect my team and patients because the expectation is high. Even before the second dose we get, we have to follow the prescribed preventive measures for another six months very strictly. We understand that 30 percent population has already been infected by the virus and when 30-40 percent population get vaccinated, the overall immunity will be more than 60 percent. Only then there could be some relief for all of us. Till that time, our fight against the pandemic is not over.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

‘We Moved 1.1 Cr Vaccine Doses In A Day, It Feels Great’

Kunal Subhash Agarwal, co-founder of Kool-ex, the first logistics company assigned to transport Covid-19 vaccines, talks about the proud consignment and the challenges it entails

In the last 30 hours, we have transported 1.1 crore Covid-19 vaccine vials to their destinations. The last three days, since we were assigned the task of transporting the vaccines, have been super busy. But it feels great to be a vital cog in the national vaccination machine.

We have been in business as a pharma distribution company for a decade or so and transporting similar cargo across the country. So, while in terms of work this is business as usual, several facts make this moment unique.

First, we have not seen a pandemic of this volume in our lifetime. India has been one of the worst hit countries but also one of the first few to fight back with an indigenous immunization programme. The scale and geographical diversity of our country makes it even more challenging and special. Therefore as a service to the nation, to our countrymen, this is both an emotional and proud moment for us at Kool-ex.

Today, when the first batch of trucks was getting flagged off, we did a small ceremony of sorts to cherish it as a memory in future. The national Tricolour was placed on the trucks and having secured the permission from the police to film the event, we shot some videos to share it on social media too.

Kunal Subhash Agarwal (extreme left) has given Kool-ex fleet (right) a new ‘Make in India’ look

ALSO READ: A Vaccine Of Hope

Here, I would like people to know how a pharma distribution company operates in contrast to a non-pharma cargo service. First, we are part of a cold chain logistics, which essentially means moving goods in a temperature-controlled set-up, unlike carriers in the movers & packers category. Then in the cold chain, there are two segments: pharma and non-pharma. The non-pharma segment comprises supplies such as dairy products, perishable food items, yeast, even blood.

The pharma segment is mainly restricted to medicines or vaccines that also require a temperature-module during transportation. As it involves saving lives, the quality-control measurement in the pharma supply are much more stringent than other cold chain carriers, even though the vehicles used are similar.

For example, all our trucks are fitted with sensors that tell you live temperature across India. We have a monitoring cell that screens each and every truck, their temperature and movements through GPS devices. We also have door-open sensors linked to the monitoring unit, so that we know if a door has been opened, and for how long. So basically, it is a tech-enabled fleet.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination Process’

To maintain such operations is not an easy task. A pharmaceutical company will never work with a company that is dealing with anything non-pharma for the risk of contamination. So even if someone has used a truck for food and it comes in for loading it will get rejected.

Incidentally, I have realised that keeping such strictly-monitored operations is an easier task than managing the media in our country. Ever since the news hounds got the wind of our work, we were flooded with calls from all corners. And I knew not how to manage their queries.

As told to Mamta Sharma

‘Ignore Fake News, Covid-19 Vaccines Are A Must For All’

Mufti Mohammad Danish Qadri, 30, general secretary of Markazi Jammiyat-ehle Sunnat, says saving a life is of foremost importance and people must take part in vaccination wholeheartedly

Much like in other parts of the world, the business of fake news thrives in India too. The more important the matter is, the more fake news and misinformation it generates. Gullible men and women fall for what I call propaganda by Whatsapp University scholars. One such half-truth was that the recently launched vaccines for coronavirus contain gelatin (a product derived from pigs and considered haram or forbidden in Islam).

First, no such news has been confirmed; this is all fear-mongering. Second, even if the vaccines contained gelatin, it would be seen as a medicine, not food, which is meant to save lives. In Islam, saving lives is considered the highest obligation. Thus most Islamic scholars see no issue in this regard. In fact, in Islam if on an occasion like the current pandemic, offering namaz publicly is seen as unsafe, one can even forego namaz. Public health and safety come foremost. One must stay away from meddling faith into medicine.

Take for example, the polio vaccination programme started in the last decade. UNICEF officials approached muftis and other religious leaders to dispel the misinformation surrounding the programme. I am proud to say I was at the forefront of the immunisation programme. Without a healthy society, how will faith survive?

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be Part Of Vaccination Programme’

Nowadays, many people think science and religion (especially Islam) are in conflict with each other, but in the middle-ages it was Islam which made great progress towards surgery, anaesthesia and developing antiseptics. Even alcohol which is forbidden in Islam is allowed when used as a medicine.

Qadri says politics and matters of faith must not be in conflict with medicine

People with shallow knowledge of the Quran and the Hadees can put people’s lives in danger. Islam takes law, health and emotional as well as financial development into account to create a stable society. Few people know that when the first plague to afflict the Islamic world, called the plague of Amwas (Amwas ta’un), broke out near Palestine, a strict lockdown kind of restriction was imposed to contain the spread. That was nearly 1,450 years ago.

So when people question about restrictions today, we tell them that communities, including Islamic, have respected scientific research and rules right from the beginning. The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, and the vaccination programme will only help people regain freedom.

ALSO READ: A Vaccine Of Hope

Hygiene is also of tremendous importance in Islam which is why there is the concept of wuzu (ablutions) five times a day. Such traditions were formed for the health and wellbeing of society. So that when people offer namaz in public places, one infected person does not spread the contagion.

Some people say they distrust the vaccine because it is being brought by the BJP government. This is incorrect. Everyone needs vaccine and it must not be made a political issue. I am happy India has been able to develop its own vaccines. We should all volunteer to get ourselves vaccinated and not pose any inconvenience to healthcare workers. They have already been so overworked since last year to protect us.

For those who still look for religious sanction, I can assure them that in new or unforeseen circumstances (like coronavirus) Islam has the concept of qiyas (jurisprudence). And our jurisprudence says, vaccination is for the public good.

‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination Programme’

Savita Paliwal, 52, a senior vaccinator in Moradabad (UP), is happy to see India among the first few countries to launch vaccination programme early. She explains how the monumental process will unfold

I have been in the medical profession for nearly three decades now and have been involved with quite a few vaccination and immunisation programmes. As a government employee at the Community Health Centre at Thakurdwara, Moradabad, I have been actively involved in building a healthy society. However, this time it is quite different.

Dealing with the Covid-19 is something that we have never seen before in our entire career. Healthcare professionals have been on their toes for nearly a year now. And with new strains coming up at different parts of the world, the challenge is only getting tougher.

It was therefore both a moment of relief and pride when we were informed that India is one of the first few countries to start vaccination programme. We have compiled the beneficiary list in our zone and have had two dry runs, on January 5 and 8.

We have been divided into two teams of three members each. Both teams have one vaccinator, one helper and a data expert (someone who keeps track of the beneficiaries who get vaccination). Healthcare professionals, especially the pharmacists and paramedical staff will be given the vaccine on priority basis.

ALSO READ: A Vaccine Of Hope

The phase 1 of the programme begins on January 16. Each team is supposed to vaccinate 25 people in a day, so in our locality you can say that the Community Health Centre employees will be vaccinating around 50 people daily. The process will be spread across five rooms with standard operating procedure in place like regular sanitization, temperature screening etc.

Savita Paliwal (middle) with her colleagues at Moradabad community health centre

The DM (district magistrate) was very involved in how the dry runs were conducted and there was total cooperation from the Chief Minster’s office as well. I feel happy that we are all functioning as one smooth machinery.

Of course, many people are scared of taking vaccines but as someone with an extensive experience in this field I know how to soothe people. Asha workers are also involved in the vaccination programme, and spreading awareness about it.

Moradabad was declared a hotspot last year and I would say we expect most people to be co-operative. No query of the beneficiaries will be considered insignificant and we will take care to also inform them of the minor side-effects they might encounter after the vaccination.

ALSO READ: Nursing Our Healthcare System

I feel lucky to be a part of this monumental process. I have been keeping myself updated with all the news about vaccines developed in India as well as other countries and I would say so far we have handled the Covid-19 situation really well. But it is not over yet and the pandemic needs the cooperation of every single citizen of the country. I make it a point to carry extra masks in my bag and hand them free to anyone I see not wearing a mask.

I feel proud that India developed and mass-produce a vaccine in good time and now we aren’t dependent on any foreign country for the immunity programme. I wonder how the scientists who developed the vaccines must have raced against time to save as many lives as possible. I hope the process goes smoothly. We have managed and eradicated polio and now we are confident we shall put corona virus behind us too.

Watch – ‘We Feel Blessed By Serving The Farmers’

As farmers from Punjab and Haryana camp at Singhu border to demand rollback of three Agriculture Laws, members of the Sikh community have come out in support of the demonstrators. Many of them are providing free ‘Seva’ in the form of piping hot tea, fresh snacks and other food items to keep the protesters warm in the cold weather.

LokMarg this week spoke to several such ‘sevadaars’ who have set up langars that provide ‘Badam Chai’, an almond tea with snacks, and healthy snacks 24×7 to the protesters. These service providers say the facilities will continue as long as the farmers are stationed at the Singhu border. There is little doubt in their minds that the Centre will have to roll back the ‘black laws’ in the interest of the farmers.

Watch the full video here

‘As A Cartoonist, I Must Question The Establishment’

Satish Acharya, who recently published a collection of his pandemic-related cartoons titled Go Corona Go, says it is his duty to question the rulers of the day; who occupies the chair is immaterial

It is part of my job as a cartoonist to use humour to drive home a point. Cartoons may not lead to revolution in society, but they will slowly and definitely shape the reader’s opinion. Cartoons critique, educate, and also throw light on another perspective of news.

Cartooning is my ideology. My belief is, as a cartoonist I have to keep questioning the establishment, the government of the day. Who occupies the chair is immaterial for me. By drawing a cartoon, I might end up offending one section or another. But it’s only a side effect of this wonderful profession. Because of social media, the outrage or intolerance against cartoon can be targeted in an organised manner. To survive here without being affected, you need to ignore the negativity.

My book Go Corona Go wasn’t planned, just like the life after Corona. The extent of human suffering, the anxiety of the unknown and the scars of the lockdown on human lives resulted in hundreds of cartoons during this pandemic. The book has bundled them together. It is an effort to document this phase of life. Hopefully a few decades later, people will get a glimpse of this scary period, through my cartoons.

Some of the cartoons published in Acharya’s book Go Corona Go

I mostly draw on political news, but I’m also fascinated by cricket and filmy news. You keep following news, opinion, perspectives looking for a spark for an idea.

I was fascinated by the art of cartooning since school days, but I never thought of taking up cartooning as vocation. Hailing from a lower middle class family, I knew the importance of education to get into a good job. So, while cartooning remained a hobby, the focus was on studies.

Only after coming to Mumbai with an MBA for a lucrative job, I realised that cartooning can be a professional choice. So, the journey in two boats began, which resulted mediocre efforts, both in my MBA job as well as in cartooning.  So, I had to make a choice. I chose cartooning.

It was the toughest phase of my life, even struggling to survive in Mumbai with almost no work. After ten years of struggle to get a break, Mid-Day happened in my life. I began my career with Mid-Day as an illustrator/designer, but gradually my cartoons found place in the paper.

ALSO READ: Sania Mirza Speaks About Covid-19 Impact

Cartoonist is a demanding profession in India now. Till you establish yourself as a good cartoonist, this profession will keep questioning your choice. Your persistence will be tested. It might even drag you to the brink of giving up.

But if you’re ready to support your passion with hard work, there’s very little competition. You’re your own competition. With the popularity of social media and portals, opportunities are opening up for cartoonists. There’s no boundary for cartoons in digital age. Newspaper is restricted to geographical or sometimes ideological boundaries. But on the web, you have an edge.  You just need to believe in your ability.

There are many cartoons which I liked. I am always excited about the ideation process. So a great idea fulfills me creatively. I am fond of the cartoon I had done when AAP won second term in Delhi. Also I am proud of the cartoon I had done regarding farmers’ protest.

RK Laxman, Mario were my initial idols. I look at my profession as a journey and I keep learning from cartoonists from different generations and different languages. I look to learn from younger cartoonists too.

(As told to Mamta Sharma)

‘The World Is Taking Note Of Indian Farmers Protest’

Gurcharan Singh, 54, a teacher in Toronto, says farmers protest has now become a people’s movement. Every weekend, he attends demonstrations before Indian consulate in biting cold

I have been a Canadian citizen for the last 25 years but that doesn’t mean I have forgotten India. My heart is still there and so is my extended family who are all farmers. Before I shifted to Canada 30 years back, I was a farmer in Punjab. I worked at the fields during my studies and even after I had taken up a job in India.

I still fancy farming and look forward to owning a farm in Canada in future. Therefore, I understand the challenges and hardships a farmer faces. I understand how unpredictable a farmer’s life can get and in India, MSPs are the only predictable thing for this community.

Since the matter was so close to my heart I braved the sub-zero freezing cold and the fear of coronavirus to take part in anti-farm laws protest in Canada. Major demonstrations and car rallies are held every weekend in our city outside Indian consulate while sporadic protests take place here and there as well. Each weekend, protesters drove down in various vehicles from cars, tractors, goods trucks, dump trucks, trailers etc, some from as far as 45-50 kilometres, to reach the consulate. I have attended all the weekend rallies since December 12.

A protester in Toronto displays his solidarity with Indian farmers

The protests have been peaceful. On December 19, we gathered at the centre of the city on Dundas Square (Toronto) where we were confronted by a Modi supporter. However, the organizers calmly requested him to go away. Then we were escorted by police and marched on city streets three kilometres to the consulate office. Nothing can stop us.

All three bills are very dangerous. If the first Bill gets passed, the corporates will kill state-run mandis and MSP system. I support MSP for all 23 crops. Even vegetables and fruits should have MSP, if we want to keep our farmers alive.

The second bill about contract farming is worse. Some farmers in Sangrur (Punjab) and Gujarat have already experienced its adverse impact in their dealings with cola major Pepsi. Moreover, the lack of dispute redressal mechanism can prove to be very dangerous for the farmers.

Third bill is about unlimited storage of crops. When under new law only one company (Adani group) will be controlling the storage and distribution to consumers, then they will be controlling the whole distribution process. Artificial shortage will be created and consumers will have to pay five times more prices.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Wants Farm Sector To Go Telecom Way’

I am glad that Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is openly supporting the farmers movement. Not only him, but the Opposition leader, Erin O’ Toole (Conservative Party) and Jagmeet Singh (New Democratic Party) also support the farmers. The idea of corporatisation of farming was tried in Canada some 40-50 years back and our leaders know what a failure it was, which is why they are standing with the Indian farmers.

A protester holds an anti-Modi placard in Toronto

I feel Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is running away from his responsibilities. He is bending over backwards to please his corporate friends, Adani and Ambani. I think he is unable to accept his failure. Farmers from Punjab started this protest and now it has become a people’s movement. It has brought people from all religions, all professional backgrounds together like never before. The movement will stop BJP’s engine running on the fuel of Hindutva.

We will keep voicing our dissent in our part of the world. I do not have to take time off from work because most of the protests happen on weekends. I attend the protests with my wife, son (24), daughter (19) and family friends. Even though my children are Canada-born they do understand the ground realities of India.

My daughter drove nearly 100 kms from her University in Waterloo to the protest site just so she could register her voice. She also spent a lot of time making posters for the protests. I was filled with pride to see that first, second and even third generation Indians, including Sikhs, were present at the rallies. This is no longer just an Indian farmers issue anymore; the whole world is taking note of the situation.

Singh (in green turban) and other protesters brave freezing cold to voice their dissent

Watch – ‘We Have Faced Colder Nights In Our Fields’

Even as cold wave sweeps north India and mercury dips close to 1 Degree Celsius, farmers protesting at various Delhi borders have dug their feet in. LokMarg speaks to several farmers camping near Singhu border as to what keeps them going despites such cold weather.

Most farmers make light of the biting cold, saying that they have faced colder nights working in their fields. They also reiterate that till the Centre repeals the ‘black laws’ they are not going anywhere, weather be damned.

Watch Full Video Here:

Watch – ‘Medical Langar Will Continue Till Farmers Are Here’

As farmers from Punjab and Haryana continue their protest at Singhu border, several Sikh organisations have set up medical kiosks at the protest site. The organisers told LokMarg that the facilities include digital check-ups for blood-pressure and sugar level, and medicines for common ailments or discomforts in cold weather.

Trained pharmacists run these units, aided by organisations like Akaal Aid and Initiators For Change, among others. The medicines and facilities are also provided to the local populace free of cost. Calling these units as ‘Medical Langar’ the organisers say the services will continue as long as the protests stays on, be it six months or a year.

Watch Full Video Here: