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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

Covid Crisis | Sagari Chhabra

Saturday 1 May 2021, by Sagari Chhabra

In February end I went to a meeting at India’s premier Centre wearing two masks. I noticed that unfortunately very few present were wearing masks and there was no social distancing as well. I asked the organizer - a well known academic - to make an announcement, requesting the people to wear masks which he did. Unfortunately, some complied and some did not. Certainly not the man standing next to me whose photograph I clicked and who turned out to be a journalist and a leading author.

Soon afterwards I started feeling uneasy and called a leading pathologist who responded with ‘just because you have sneezed does not mean you have Covid’. However, when my symptoms persisted I self-isolated myself and insisted on a test. I tested positive on 6th March. I got myself an online doctor – who charged me a whopping Rs. 20,000/- for mere exchanges on WhatsApp and put me on cortisone. I was also sent in an ambulance for a high definition Cat-scan of my lungs for which my family paid a rather large amount. I thought it was strange that the ambulance kept using a siren despite my pleas not to - as it was not an emergency - and on reaching the hospital the emergency entrance was locked so I had to wait for almost ten minutes. As I waited I saw the parking lot full of enormous cars doing their bit to wipe out the remnants of the clean air.
My attack was mercifully mild as I have no co-morbidities but what saved me was my family that really worked round-the-clock to respond to every requirement. My super-senior citizen mother who dashed around to supply me with water, food and medicines, my brother and sister-in-law who kept awake nights – placed on another time zone - to tell me how to use a nebulizer, assuage my anxieties and to respond to any need. And my little daughter who sent me loads of love – virtually.

I survived but as I write this India has crossed 16.5 million Covid infections and there have been 190,000 deaths attributed to Covid since the start of the pandemic. The iron on the pyres is melting due to overuse and canine cremation spaces have been sanctioned for humans due to scarcity of space. Yet these are mere statistics, every death cannot speak of the unfathomable trauma and loss it causes family members; each death diminishes us and causes havoc in the ecosystem of our mind.

The deaths are too many but still worse is the sight of relatives begging to get a loved one inside a hospital, long lines of ambulances outside hospitals waiting for a bed and people pleading, even begging for an oxygen cylinder or a concentrator.

While the first wave was relatively mild why did the ruling powers not prepare for the inevitable second wave which swept both the U.S and Europe? Worse why did they allow elections in Bengal with an incredibly long drawn out eight phases; Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu leading to mass rallies that inexorably have spread the infection.

Why have a kumbh mela where approximately 49,00,000 people gathered to have a dip in the Ganga to absolve their sins? Is it not sinful that these people will spread the infection back in their homes and villages? All this could have been avoided if rationality, scientific advice and an open discourse had been resorted to address the issue. However, in Uttar Pradesh the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath has threatened prosecution for anyone who is ‘rumour mongering’ on social media; even charging a man who had tweeted that his grandfather required an oxygen cylinder. The grandfather died sans the cylinder but suppressing the truth with bullying and muscle-flexing does not enable us to deal with the situation.

It is good that vaccines have been opened to those above the age of eighteen but the website https://www.cowin.gov.in/ is unable to give any appointments - due to an overload – but where are the vaccines? Calls to the private hospitals tell us that there are no vaccines in Delhi. Is it fair to have different prices for the central, state and private hospitals? The vaccines should be free for all as this virus has already created havoc, so it cannot be left to those who can afford it or will overcrowd public hospitals.

In Delhi by an act passed by the parliament, the term government means the Lieutenant Governor. I had thought federalism was part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution and did the citizens of Delhi not vote for AAP with an overwhelming majority in Delhi. As I write this, the Lt. Governor, Anil Baijal too has developed Covid. I wish him a speedy recovery because millions and millions of Indians are gasping, literally for breath for him to pass orders! What we need is a decentralization of powers not further centralization.

This is much worse than the Emergency when Soli Sorabjee - who sadly passed away on April 30, 2021 from Covid - had fought the cases of MISA detenus pro bono. During the Emergency a few had their liberty taken away, now millions are at the cusp of having their lives taken away. This is an undeclared Emergency one that will scar the psyche of our people forever.

All one can say to those in power; get real, get down to serving the people or the people might just serve you right.

(Sagari Chhabra is Is an award-winning author & film-maker. She is the director of the ‘Hamaara Itihaas’ archives)

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