Bhagya Bose, 32, lives by herself in the North Goa village of Siolim. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday in an attempt to contain Covid-19, she has started eating only one meal a day. “I have not had eggs in a while, no milk, no vegetables,” she said.
Bose has been living off food stuff that she had stocked up on two weeks ago – ragi, oats and some curd. “I’ve been eating a lot of grains,” she said on Sunday. “I have some ginger garlic paste, so I keep throwing that in with some chilli powder to make things as tasty as possible.” She also said she has been avoiding making dishes like rajma or channa which take longer to cook for fear that she may run out LPG.
She is just one of the residents of Goa who have been thrown into panic as the state chose to impose the lockdown more harshly and brutally than in many other parts of India. When he announced a 100% lockdown, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant of the Bharatiya Janata Party had not even allowed stores selling groceries, bread and milk to function. Soon, videos of the police assaulting people on the streets began to be circulated on social media.
The stories of Central Reserve Police Force personnel beating up people and impounding their vehicles were “enough to scare us into staying put”, said Luis Dias, 54, a resident of state capital Panjim. He too was anxious about how long the stock of food they had at home would last for his 87-year-old mother who suffers from a heart condition, his wife and his 11-year-old son.
When Modi announced a janata curfew or people’s curfew on March 22, “we listened to the government when we were told not to stock up”, Dias said. Even as Goans were observing the curfew, the government announced that it would be extended for three days. On March 24, Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown. As a consequence, families like Dias’s have had to make do with whatever they bought on March 21].
On Sunday, Dias said, his family “broke our last coconut to make some curry. Maybe we’ll start eating plain rice now.”
Even though Chief Minister Sawant on Thursday backtracked from the severity of the lockdown and announced that grocery stores would be open round-the clock from Friday, several residents said that essentials were still in short supply.
In addition, long lines were reported at stores.
Stores are operating sporadically, leaving residents in a constant state of uncertainty. Even now, fear prevails. “Nothing has changed,” said Dias. “We are getting all kinds of conflicting information. We don’t know what to believe and whom to believe. There are rumours that we have to wake up at 5 am and go to the market – there is no guarantee.”
Bose said that in the area in which she lives, people have been travelling to Mapusa market, about 4 km away. “But after a few hours in the morning, they run out of stock,” she said. “Everything is haphazard and even this [information] is limited to people with phones and internet.”
Most residents say that the helplines established by the government for home delivery of essential supplies are not responsive.
Adding to the panic is the fact that two battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force were deployed in Goa on Sunday. Chief Minister Sawant said that they have been given a “free hand to enforce the lockdown”. Later in the day, the Goa government permitted delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato to resume services, picking up food from restaurants and delivering it to homes.
Not surprisingly, the state government has come under fire for its poor planning and inadequate communication.
“Since the curfew was announced, panic started setting in because shops were closed and there was no information,” said Srijit Kumar, 30, a resident of Porvorim in North Goa. “The government kept changing its word. Each ward and panchayat had to look after itself. It had become very decentralised [and] there was no accountability, people didn’t know what was happening.”
He added: “People started heading out early in the morning and black markets started cropping up. They were freaking out because they had no cooking gas, no supplies…and instead of helping people out [the police] was treating them like animals.”
The poor and working-class migrants have been especially hurt by the lockdown. “Around Mapusa and Panjim [in North Goa], the working class is suffering terribly,” said Narayan Asha Anand, 34, a resident of Tivim in North Goa and a member of Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “They have no food. I have seen people walking back to their villages on this highway [to cross the inter-state border].” To help those who have stayed behind, Anand has started a volunteer group.
Other groups have joined the effort too, including the Popular Front of India.
Despite the shortages, Sawant’s decision to allow grocery stores selling vegetables and milk to open was met by opposition from a vocal group demanding that a complete lockdown stay in place.
“Even while we are one of the states with better infrastructure in the country, the uncertainty is driving people mad,” said Raj Kunkolienkar, 25, who runs an education technology start up in Panjim and is crowdsourcing a list of voluntary food delivery service. “While cities [like Mumbai] were celebrating that stores are open, we have around 60,000 people signing a petition [to keep shops shut]...People are behaving in really funny ways.”