Mosquito nets are closely related to nightly plans in Bihar. A few years ago, a pop song by Bhojpuri even blamed the mosquito net. One woman expressed her wish for a missing husband with these lines: “Man kare silawat pe lorha se, kuch di jawani rajau / kauno saut sang kaat taara chaani lagage machhardaani rajau.”
Loosely translated, she sang: “I want to crush my youth; You must have fun with a lover under the mosquito net, my dear. “
Apart from motifs in love, the mosquito net is seen in large parts of rural and urban Bihar as a guaranteed step towards a healthy sleep, which scores points over more modern mosquito repellants. Unsurprisingly, the state civil protection agency ordered all 38 district judges to supply around 5,000 block-level quarantine centers across the state.
However, this has not happened in all quarantine centers. The reports of unrest and unruly behavior by migrant workers quarantined at these centers in Bihar can be traced back to several factors. Among other things, the threat posed by mosquitoes and the lack of mosquito nets are important.
This seemingly trivial problem is one of the main torments for the quarantined migrants. Sleepless nights have even forced some migrants to leave centers in different districts. There are regular media reports about the unavailability and scarcity of networks and the resulting riot and confrontations with officials who manage the quarantine drill in the state.
On May 19, Dainik Bhaskar reported that migrant workers quarantined at a school in the Basantpur block of Supaul district requested that mosquito nets be provided. The workers spent sleepless nights from mosquito bites.
A similar riot was observed at a quarantine center in the Aurai block of Muzaffarpur. In a Hindustan report, a block development officer was quoted as saying that the mosquito netting facilities had not yet been expanded to the Aurai center. At a quarantine center on the Musahari Block, also in Muzaffarpur, the Hindustan Times reported that migrant workers were “rampaging” and demanding adequate facilities. The mosquito net was one of their most important requirements.
For some reason, Muzaffarpur is notorious for swarms of mosquitoes. Mainly for this reason, and because of the discomfort that feels stronger in summer, even loyal residents can be heard saying in Bajjika, the local dialect, “Muzaffapur ke saanjh bari beekh hoyee chhai (Muzaffarpur evenings are poisonous).”
The impermeable attitude of the mosquitoes here is reminiscent of the mosquitoes in Madna, the fictional district town in Upamanyu Chatterjees Roman English from 1988, August. The protagonist, a prospective IAS officer named Agastya Sen, was unable to protect himself from the mosquitoes with the help of repellants and a mosquito net.
Chatterjee wrote: “Before going to bed he lit a mosquito incense stick under the table and rubbed the mosquito repellent on himself. He slept under a mosquito net, but the mosquitoes caught him anyway. He emerged from sleep three times that night, only to hear the mosquitos roar in the light of the porch. “
For a newcomer spending his first few nights in Muzaffarpur, the futility of Agastya Sen’s fight against Madna’s mosquitoes could be a wreck.
In addition to local media and government spending, the national press has also taken note of how mosquitoes are helping to distress or drive migrant workers from quarantine centers. Even before the massive influx of migrants this month, Hindus reported the growing unrest in some quarantine centers. And the situation doesn’t seem to have changed over the weeks. If anything, it has been tightened further.
The Hindu report, published April 8, found a visible trend in some centers in Bihar: a number of migrants slip out of the centers at night and return during the day. While this reveals the lax security in the centers, the Hindus tried to investigate other reasons for this nightly escape. It quoted a village chief from Sahasra district who was responsible for controlling the movement of quarantined workers.
Citing local pressure as an obstacle to this task, the village chief added, “Also, how can we ask you to stay in such hellish conditions at the local government schools where swarms of mosquitos hover over you at dusk?”
That report was quoted a week later by the BBC in a message about the factors driving migrants from quarantine centers.
However, the mosquito threat is not only a major problem for migrants in Bihar. Media reports from different parts of the country suggest that mosquitoes have caused major problems for residents of quarantine centers. A report in the Times of India examining the reasons for fleeing these centers indicated that a quarantine center in Mumbai’s Breach Candy was stumbling under the “threat of mosquitos”.
Back in Bihar, the regional press reported not only the obvious complaints but also what has now become an annual problem: the threat of various mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever. The newspapers were aware of the problems these diseases can pose to the state’s limited health infrastructure, which is already burdened with dealing with the medical necessity of the Covid-19 outbreak. As if to reiterate the importance of mosquito nets, a report in Hindustan last month ended with expert advice on how to use the nets.
Not so long ago, street stalls in Bihar’s district towns were selling a slim brochure of general knowledge printed on cheap and unkempt paper. Amid the random selection of dubious “facts” one was particularly fascinating. France is the only country without mosquitoes.
Far from it, this was likely a fantasy driven by the need for peaceful sleep, and it made sense to sell it to generations of mosquito-defeated Biharis. Until they can live this fantasy, a mosquito net is the best choice against their nightly ordeal. After all, asking for a good night’s sleep isn’t too much for a quarantined migrant worker.
The history of migrant workers should not only be seen in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak. It’s part of a much bigger story about workers’ rights. These stories need to be told by the media, which is fair and free, and has no leverage over corporate or government support. This is why you should pay to keep messages free. Subscribe to Newslaundry today.