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State–Society Synergy at COVID-19’s Invisible Front Lines

Dyuti Saunik, Avani Kapur, Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, and Jessica Mayberry
(2021)

The voices of rural residents and front-line officials in India’s villages and small towns are often absent in accounts of the pandemic, which have focused on the crises unfolding in major cities. Yet these voices offer crucial insight into the invisible front lines of COVID-19, with critical lessons for governance and emergency response. For the past year, through two waves of COVID-19, we have gathered hundreds of grassroots accounts from citizen journalists and government workers embedded in communities across rural India. The stories that emerge reveal divergent experiences and gaps in trust and communication between local residents and officials. However, they also reveal instances where local actors bridge these gaps, suggesting the potential for a powerful “synergy—marked by cooperation and coordination—between locally embedded state and societal actors.” This synergy, we argue, is crucial for a robust pandemic response that reflects and meets local needs.

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