A primary school teacher in Telangana died of COVID-19 just days after she was summoned for election duty for the Nagarjunasagar assembly bypoll in Telangana on April 17, leaving behind her husband Kammampati Mohan Rao and their 8-year-old daughter. Their story is one among the tragic stories of 15 families whose lives have been ruined by politics and elections amid the raging pandemic.
Sandhya had a fever on April 20 and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. A week later, she was admitted to an ICU in a private hospital in Hyderabad. She died on May 8. She was 35. Her husband says the world has collapsed for him and their daughter.
"Not just my wife, I have lost my life. Why were the elections held? Just for one MLA, so many people have died. My family is destroyed. Elections could have happened later after lockdown or after all were vaccinated,'' he says.
Ms Sandhya went for her polling duty to Haliya, where Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao held a massive public meeting just two days ago on April 14. Subsequently, the Chief Minister, the TRS party candidate and hundreds of others tested positive.
The Telangana High Court recently observed that the 15 who died from among 500 teachers who got infected with COVID-19 during the recently held assembly bypoll in the state must be recognised as Covid warriors and be given compensation. The family members of the infected teachers are now questioning the government's move to hold election during the pandemic.
Mohan Rao, who accompanied his wife to the polling station, alleges that many Covid protocols were violated on polling day. More than 30 polling staff crowded a bus that took them to the polling station. At least ten people, including five polling staff and four polling agents, sat in a small government school classroom from 7 am to 7 pm during polling, he said.
A defective thermometer with no battery was brought by the nurses, so no one's temperature was checked, he alleged. No PPE kit was given to polling staff in the last hour, when the Covid positive patients came to vote.
Ms Sandhya's duty was to apply indelible ink, verify identity and get the sign of 430 voters, which means she was exposed to each of them for at least 1 to 2 minutes.
"They keep saying social distancing. How is it possible, if you have to check identity, apply ink, get signature of 400 people? Each person takes one to two minutes. It is a small classroom with no air ventilation,'' he said.
The Telangana High Court now, in a suo moto plea, has said that it is "criminal negligence" on the part of the state that at least 15 teachers died and hundreds of them tested positive during the poll duty.