A Long Battle!

A great leveller COVID-19, affecting people irrespective of their social status, embodied nothing before 2020, at least to most of us, (don’t know if China had plans for it), but now it’s the reason for the world’s largest lockdown in the history. If we have to trace India’s crisis handling model and the lockdown planning, we might have to go back on 22nd of March, at exact 8 p.m. because at that very moment, the lockdown arrived at our doorsteps with the notice of just four-hours. These unprecedented versions of lockdown have unsettled lives, halted the economy and pushed India much deeper into the crisis and needless to say, the pain on the employment front looks inevitable. These difficulties can only be surpassed by the devastation and struggles faced by millions of migrant workers as well as daily-wage earners, with a little economic buffer or welfare safety net.

But let’s give it to India’s PM because his decision of lockdown resulted in slowing down the graph of mounting casualties in the country. This success, however, accompanied a great misery, which was overshadowed betwixt the lightning of ‘Diyas and Torch’, where millions of migrants workers were dwarfed, some of them probably didn’t even have the privilege of sitting back at their homes to light candles. And as much as I want to believe that the 5 minutes exercise of ‘Talis and Thalis’ (applause) was important to keep the morale high in a time of crisis, I can’t help but wonder, how many voices were suppressed from that noise? In the speech of fewer than 30 minutes, either I failed to hear the concrete measures that the country would take to help migrant workers or PM missed out on pointing out those measures in the initial week, for which, the repercussions were seen later.

The instant exodus of thousands of people, miserable eking days of underprivileged people, scarcity of the resources, sudden panics bespeaks the incompetency of India’s disaster management. Unsurprisingly, the chaos ensued and many died in the process! With some preparation, this situation could have been mitigated, if not averted altogether.

Of course, India’s model of handling the global pandemic was better than its counterparts and was appreciated by the global leaders a lot but while we praise the early handling of COVID-19 situation in India, let’s not forgets the poor handling of migrant workers as well. While many countries are bringing back their citizens stranded in foreign countries, India is the only one celebrating it as an event where ministers can’t stop applauding and appreciating the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. It is definitely worth many applauds and appreciations that the government is bringing so many good Indians back in the planes with all the basic comforts, and better quarantine settings so they can go to their families safely.

Never mind the millions of barefoot migrant workers, who happened to be uneducated and poor, and maybe that’s the reason why they had to walk back home, empty stomach, without much attention from ‘Vande Bharat Mission’.

Last but not the least, India has managed to set up tents for those who have been infected with this deadly disease; however, we’ve not yet set up enough facilities for psychological help, for which, India might have to pay the price once this unprecedented lockdown end because once when we are out there again, but with a lot of stress to cope up with the situation, chaos will occur. Although, there are some institutions and NGO’s, whose initiative to educate people about the possible psychological impacts and trauma recreation has appreciated, but that’s not enough.

Even after making itself a blueprint for other countries, India has many overlooked mishaps that need to be considered as a lesson for the future. Let’s walk through the sequences of events during the pandemic-handling in India.

  1. On 30 Jan, the first COVID-19 case was reported.
  2. On 11 March, WHO declared this outbreak as a pandemic and yet as late as 13th March, a senior official from the Health Ministry of India was assuring Indians about how this virus is not a health emergency.
  3. On 19 March, PM Modi asked all citizens of India to observe the ‘Janata Curfew’ (people’s curfew) on 22 March, Sunday (from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.).
  4. On 22 March, the lockdown began in four hours after Modi’s announcement.
  5. On 28 March, PM CARE was established for nationwide donation, accompanied by a lack of transparency of the donated amount and its usage.

“There is no mention of maintenance of accounts, their audit and on the answerability of the decisions taken by these four trustees. In short, there is no transparency and accountability,” said CPI(M)’s Rajya Sabha member K.K. Ragesh.

  1. On 29 March, five days into the lockdown, the states were finally asked by the centre to stop the exodus of migrants and provide them with food and shelter.
  2. On 14 April, PM extended the nationwide lockdown until 3 May, with of course some conditional relaxation after 20th April, only for the regions where the spread had been contained.
  3. On 1st May, the lockdown was extended further by two weeks until 17 May, where the entire nation was divided into three-zone: green, red and orange, with relaxations, applied accordingly.
  4. On 5 May, the liquor shops were allowed to open, resulting in chaotic scenes across the cities.

During these sequence of events, a lot of things happened like viral of much fake news resulting in disaster, death of many migrant workers while going back home, breach of social distancing, breach of lockdown by a few politicians and celebrities for their reasons, and many more. Despite deadly disease loitering on our head, Hindu-Muslim issues were the one grabbing a lot of attention in media. Needless to say, we are more vulnerable to media and political virus than the corona itself.

The polarised reaction and solutions came from various scholars and experts:

  • “It’s not an easy thing to do. What you are doing is buying time to flatten the curve,” says K Viswanath, director of the India Research Center at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
  • “While the countrywide lockdown was necessary, it is also true that we could have been better prepared”, says K Reddy, referring to hardships faced by migrant workers.
  • “Government response has been knee-jerk. They took decisions without much planning. There are problems with top down decision making,” says Ravi Duggal, a health activist and researcher.
  • “The poor need help. Now the government must take some measures to help the industry. Companies must not be allowed to go bankrupt. They are the ones who provide jobs. To start with, the government must consider a bigger package of at least Rs 5-6 lakh crore, says Banerjee. Look at what other economies have done the US has announced a $2 trillion package, Germany has given $800 billion,” says Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general, CII.
  • “What was lacking in Modi’s speech was him telling migrants that they shouldn’t move and that the government will do what it takes to keep them where they are,” says Chinmay Tumbe, a migration scholar and assistant professor at the IIM-Ahmedabad.

But I still wonder:

  1. Who’s going to share the EXACT numbers of actual coronavirus cases/deaths in India and who’s going to bet on it, that those numbers are correct and not any manipulation to project better situation in the country or state?
  2. Is the Kamla aunty from some village of Rajasthan actually getting the promised food or ration from the donated money?
  3. What’s the amount of total donation in PM CARE and if it is being utilised, then where?     

By  Karishma Gwalani

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