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Open Fields to Empty Schools: Staying Online to Work from Home in Indian Villages a Real Struggle

News18 images.

News18 images.

Folks around India are struggling to get proper bandwidth or even reliable electric supply which have become a major challenge in the post-pandemic world we live in.

Work from home pushed by the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we work. While it is perhaps a privilege to be performing the official duties from the safety of the home, folks around India are struggling to get proper bandwidth or even reliable electric supply which have become a major challenge in the post-pandemic world we live in. A good chunk of the population has returned to their native villages and their struggle with network and power is very real.

Sriram Prajnabharathi Vidyakendra, a school in Nittur village of Hosanagara Talu, Shimoga district Karnataka has been a busy place since the onset of lockdown last year. People from neighbouring places throng to school early in the morning and work here till evening, all because this is the only place that receives a decent network range in the entire area. Mahesh Gentigemane, an employee with London Stock Exchange comes to the school to work from 7 am to 6 pm, 6 days a week. He travels from his village Gantigemane which is a 20-minute ride on his bike to his unofficial office space.

He occupies a classroom and continues to work here. He is accompanied by Vikram Mattikai who is an employee with a Multinational company based in The Netherlands. Vikram comes to the school with his wife who is also a techie.

“I couldn’t complain about bad network and skip work always. They would ask me to resign otherwise. When I learnt that network is good here, I immediately opted to shift my workplace from home to here. I travel with a sickle in my bag. During monsoons, there is multiple treefall on our way and we can’t wait for forest department to clear it. So we chop a few branches, make way and reach the workplace” says Vikram Mattikai to News18.com.

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Vikram had seen a cell phone tower next to the school and he knew the signal strength would be good and it was. First, they asked the school if they could allow a few people to use the empty classrooms and the school obliged. The school management cleaned the classrooms, sanitized the area, and opened it for the ‘working from home’ employees. Since the lockdown, the school has been shut.

Initially, a few people opposed the idea of Vikram and the likes to be assembling at the school premises but now these employees have permission from the local police, the Tahsildar and the village panchayat. Tahsildar and the Sub Inspector do surprise visits to check if Covid-19 rules are followed inside the facility and they are happy that guidelines are not violated.

The school building has 20 classrooms. Only one person is allowed to sit in each room. If they come from the same house, then both can use the same room. Maintaining distance, wearing a mask is mandatory at all times. Anyone who travels from Bengaluru or any place outside the district is told to complete their 14 day quarantine period before entering the school premises. Because of these strict rules, the school has continued to be a safe haven for these professionals. Whenever there is a power disruption, they hire a generator and share the expenses. Occasionally students come in for online classes.

“We have made lunch arrangements through a caterer nearby. They didn’t have any business and we asked them if they can provide us lunch and snacks. We pay around 60Rs per lunch and inform them on the number of people working. There is a UPS here, but during monsoon when there is longer hours of power cut, generator is handy. Due to covid situation in Bengaluru, my family was also skeptical about me travelling to the capital. So, this facility helped a lot,(sic)” says Mahesh Gentigemane.

In another instance of struggle for network, Sindhu, a software professional and a native of Varamballi village in Hosanagara Taluk of Shimoga district, has left no stones unturned to continue her work. She leaves her home at around 9.15 in the morning with a fully-charged laptop, a plastic chair, and a table and walks around 1 km to the field where she has a makeshift ‘office’. This is essentially an open tent with 4 poles and a thick plastic tarpaulin to cover above.

She came home in March 2020 when the lockdown was first announced. “Initially, I used to travel to my uncle’s house in Hosanagara which is 8 km from home every day to work. Later I started travelling daily to my cousin’s house which was 5 km away. But after strict lockdown, I couldn’t travel anywhere.”

“Once while I was walking in the field with my phone, I found there was good network range here. I then decided to work from this spot and fixed this tent. My colleagues have been very supportive and hence I am able to continue working despite the drawbacks. By afternoon, I return home and charge the laptop and modem and get back to the workplace,” says Sindhu. Monsoon is yet another factor she has to consider while working in the field.

The sorry state of all these professionals has continued for one and a half years now. And none of the service providers or concerned authorities has stepped in to help or facilitate them. With more than half the world working from home post-pandemic, this trend is expected to stay for a bit longer.

Good network and power supply have become the basic needs for these much like food and shelter.

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first published:July 03, 2021, 14:26 IST