Surge in Coronavirus Cases in Bengaluru Alienates IT City from Karnataka's Hinterland

Deepa Balakrishnan

In a village in Mandya, between the cities of Bengaluru and Mysuru, a representative of the panchayat goes around beating drums and announcing: "People from Bengaluru and Mysuru, do not come here. If you do, you will be fined Rs 5,000."

Further south, in Chamarajanagar, villagers refused entry to government-run buses from Bengaluru.

In Chinnamulgund village in Haveri in north Karnataka, residents have formed teams of one volunteer from each household, who will all take turns to stand at the border with sticks to stop 'outsiders' from entering.

The ostracism is direct, and hurting. As Covid-19 numbers spike in Bengaluru, it is pitted in a strange battle against the rest of Karnataka — many districts that have seen recent emergence of cases among their own, trace it back to someone who has travelled to Bengaluru or has had contact with Bengalureans. And, hence, the spread of the virus.

Though the state well into Unlock 2.0, many districts have imposed a lockdown of their own making — one that says: those from Bengaluru are not welcome.

"There was a corona case yesterday in a nearby village, so we are guarding our village now. How we are doing this is, by drawing up volunteers from each household and having our own teams at the borders. We take shifts of four hours for each team," a villager from Haveri told News18.

His neighbour said that they have advised locals to not venture outside the village as well. "For the next 15 days, we have, of our own volition, closed borders and decided to keep to rules made by us. We are doing this for our own good, to save our lives," he said.

The anger against Bengaluru is such that tourists who attempted to go to Chikkamagaluru, a hilly tourist town in the Western Ghats, found themselves facing the wrath of an army of villagers. Since inter-state travel has meant quarantine on arrival, many in Bengaluru thought they could go to places like Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru — both of which are barely five to six hours away — for quick weekend getaways.

"There were 7,000 vehicles that came in the third weekend of June. Obviously, people got worried," state tourism minister CT Ravi told News18.

Last weekend, locals almost gheraoed all cars with Bengaluru registration plates.

"Do you really have to come to Malnad (the Ghats region is called Malnad locally) for masti? Is it essential in these times of corona? How many of you are not wearing masks? You are not supposed to bring children out of your homes, why are you here? Government buses go with just ten people, but eight of you here in one vehicle? Have you come to spread corona? Shall we ask the police to book you?" These were some of the questions hurled at the tourists by the locals.

Cars were asked to turn back and head to Bengaluru again, heckled by a group of almost 50 locals standing guard.

Not all of it is local, resident vigilantism. Some of it is State action, too.

On Tuesday, the district deputy commissioner (collector) of Kodagu issued an order closing all resorts, homestays and hotels for tourists. Those who are already there would be allowed to stay for the duration of their booking, but no fresh guests and fresh bookings will be allowed.

A tehsildar in Channagiri in central Karnataka's Davangere has asked people coming from Bengaluru to get tested on arrival.

These moves are happening at a time when many from Bengaluru are trying to return to their native villages.

The fresh exodus from the city is happening at that time of the month when they all have to pay rents. These are migrants who had made Bengaluru their home for years but have lost incomes and livelihoods in the last three months. Many waited it out thinking things would get back to normal. But that hasn't happened.

Highways out of Bengaluru are filled with hundreds of people in mini-tempos and luggage-autos heading back to their villages.

"We can't afford the rent now. Cases are also increasing. We will return after cases subside," said Hanumanthraju, an auto-driver who has lived in Bengaluru since 1991.

Many of them are ostracised, met with unwelcome stares and suspicion. Some villages tell them to quarantine themselves indoors for 14 days. Bengaluru now accounts for almost 60 per cent of the tally of active cases in Karnataka — and people from the rest of Karnataka want to 'maintain distance' from the capital they once aspired to live in.

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