Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2020 > India’s lockdown will invite perils for its people

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 15 New Delhi March 28, 2020

India’s lockdown will invite perils for its people

Saturday 28 March 2020

by Arun Srivastava

The success of India’s 21-day lockdown to fight Coronavirus depends on how quickly the country’s health system can detect and isolate persons already infected with the disease. It is expected that lockdown will slow down the virus transmission in the larger community. But it is yet not clear that how many people who will be in homes during the lockdown are actually infected.

The lockdown in China was backed by adequate government planning and monitoring of the population, while ensuring that people had access to basic essentials. China has not placed a deadline. It was open. It does not certainly imply that the Chinese authorities were too naïve to know that it needed at least 21 days to cut the link.

The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, as usual, to present himself as super hero acted overboard. He imitated only one part of the solution — the lockdown. It was only after hue and cry that his government took the decision to reach some benefit to the poor. But this is also not fool proof.

Modi has been playing truant with the people of the country in fighting coronavirus. If Modi has been really worried of the welfare of his people it must not have taken two and half month for him to grasp the escalation of the monstrous virus and react to the threat. It was on December 30 the first case of corona virus was reported in Kerala. The victim was a student who along with his three friends had returned from Wuhan, China.

The transmission escalated in the month of March, after several cases were reported all over the country. On 10 March, the total cases reached 50. On 12 March, a 76-year-old man who had returned from Saudi Arabia became the first victim of the virus in the country. The total cases reached 100 on 15 March, 250 on 20 March and 500 on 24 March. The death toll reached 10 on 24 March.

During this period while China and other countries were gearing to face the challenge of Corona, Modi like his rightist capitalist friends Donald Trump and Boris Johnson was busy enjoying life. His coming out of slumber and addressing the nation on March 19 about the threat perspective and cautioning the people was merely a façade purely aimed at keeping his rich and middle class voters in cheers. The manner in which this section of the people responded to his call by beating thali and blowing conch simply reinforces this conviction.

Modi who claims to be a good friend of Chinese President Xi Jin Ping did not imitate his approach to face the challenge. China helped its people under the lockdown to procure food and other supplies, ensured adequate monitoring of the population so that anyone who developed symptoms would be tested immediately and isolated. Instead, our lockdown announcements appeared to be abrupt.

On the contrary our Modiji asked us to be prepared for a long drawn curfew on March 24. The lockdown was slapped on the entire country. Is this a planned response? It doesn’t seem so. It simply gives the impression that Modi in order to protect his image imposed the abrupt lockout. He himself has been panicked.

Ironically even after so many days of the lockdown the manner in which the government machinery was behaving, it simply provides an insight that Modi was not prepared and he on his part has not prepared the officials, his ministers, the bureaucracy, district administrators and law enforcement agencies across the country to face the lockdown and the difficult task of detecting and isolating as many infected persons.

In China, even without the majority getting infected, the spread of the coronavirus has been ‘brought down’ by public health management. What that magical management is, they are not telling the world. Their total burden of infection has been less than 1 per cent. So they seem to claim that they contained it — decline was not ‘natural’. Modi could have sought the advice of his friend if at all he was really concerned of the welfare of the people of the country.

The abject intellectual bankruptcy of his ministers was clearly manifest in their response to the questions posed to them about how to reach succour to the poor. In reply to specific questions on what steps were being taken to support the poor and the migrant workers, Prakash Javadekar, the information minister said “The government is keeping an eye on the situation. State governments are announcing their measures.” Strange.

On a question on the migrant workers descending on the streets of Delhi despite the social distancing measures, the minister said: “The government is keeping a watch. But they had been working (in Delhi), they must be staying somewhere. They should stay there only.” Excellent. It points to high level of administrative acumen of Javadekar.

Within two days of the lockdown frightening reports have started pouring in of mass hunger of homeless and daily wage earners. Police highhandedness has desisted the NGO to reach out the targeted people.

This action of Modi makes it explicit that his entire endeavour has been to protect the rich and middle class people, who have all the facilities at their command. The government has also promised that all the facilities would reach to their doorsteps. They need not worry and simply take care of their safety. However in this backdrop the nation cannot allow a virus safety mechanism to be used to save only the middle class who have homes and secure jobs.

A recent socio-economic study underlines that around 3.2 lakh families were homeless in urban areas across the country. In rural areas the situation is not good either. More than 8 lakh households survive on alms.

The blue eyed minister, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, of Modi had announced a financial package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crores to help rural and urban poor by transferring money directly into their bank accounts. Her move must be applauded. But will see tell the people the actual number of the poor and daily wage earners the country has and out of them how many have bank accounts? A couple of years back Jan Dhan yojana was launched by Modi government but unfortunately it died in very embryonic stage. She must refrain from refrain speaking farce and fooling the people.

At this stage when the country was facing acute crisis this nature of cruel joke does not behove to her stature or the office she holds. She mut refrain from it. Explaining the package, she said that the Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan scheme will benefit 1,70,00 crore migrants and poor people in the nation. Fine. But will she take pains to inform the mode or mechanism she is going to resort to identify and locate the beneficiaries so that the benefit reach to them. She also announced a Rs 50 lakh insurance cover for doctors, nurses and other frontline workers who are battling to contain the spread of coronavirus.

We know how a well organised gang of criminal middlemen usurp and loot these funds. This time also the same story will be repeated. Since the government never tried to identify and carry out a census of these people, as it has been busy with its communal agenda of identifying Hindu-Muslims, it would really challenging task to reach the money to the proper and genuine beneficiaries.

It is certainly not a pessimistic observation and the fact remains that most of the food grains as usual would found the way to the black market. The government has promised 1kg of pulses and 5kg of wheat/rice for 80 crore poor beneficiaries for the next three months. Will the concerned minister or the responsible will come out with the list of this huge population of poor people?

Its announcement to increase in MGNREGA wages from Rs 182 to Rs 202 will do at least one good; the MGNREGA which has been gasping for fresh financial air will survive for some more time. One also hopes that Rs 1,000 ex-gratia for the elderly, poor widows and poor and old divyang in 2 instalments for the next three months at least reaches to the genuine people.

Though the rich and middle class people are quite ebullient of the lockdown, as it aims at securing their precious lives, the government or even these people are not at all bothered of the social and cultural anxiety and the impact of solitariness on the lives of their kids , their family members and even on them.

There is no denying the fact the fear of being alone due to social distancing during the period of lockdown---the eremophobia — will acquire the character of a mass phenomenon. The fear of unknown will haunt the people. The dilemma of isolation-estrangement-loneliness will have its impact on the body of the individual and also on the body politic of a nation.

I strongly believe that the concept of “social distancing” is basically flawed and wrong. It should have been “physical distancing” and not social distancing. Staying physically distant will break the chain of transmission, but the element of ‘social distancing’ will harm the individual. Lockdown loneliness will undoubtedly hit mental health.

The entire Indian population will remain confined indoor. This would have enormous stress on the mental health of the people. The same is the case around the world. There will be increase in cases of anxiety and depression. In this time of stress, we need more social togetherness; we need more social support than social isolation. We should always be giving the message of physical distancing, which is a safety measure, but social togetherness, which can still be maintained from a physical distance. Saying ‘social distancing’ will imply that you are alone. Ironically everyone is emphasising on ‘social distancing’ when actually they should be saying physical distancing but social togetherness.

To ensure that people should not suffer with mental stress and become victims of mental health in the wake of the pandemic the fundamental principle should be the government must convey correct information to people. A vacuum leads to more anxiety. Modi ought to not to create panic by portraying the black side of the pandemic.

Government must ensure that the flow of fake news is stopped. India is notorious for this. Incidentally with 21 days of leisure is enough for the mischief mongers to create havoc. These people will be disseminating all kinds of idiotic mails and messages. As is the human psyche the people during these days will be anxiously waiting for more information and will tend to believe such fake news as correct information. It is a known fact elderly people have been feeling more and more isolated.

The intersection of multiple challenges during the Corona crisis—to health, employment, home, and access to resources—have already produced an extreme confluence of circumstances that significantly increase the risk of depression and the kind of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Squirt of the virus has turned rich and middle class people frightened of their survival. This has its echo in March 24 address to the nation, wherein he cautioned that the virus spreads fast; it took 67 days to escalate to 2 lakh from 1 lakh but two lakh multiplied to 3 lakh within 11 days. His appeal, if one takes it seriously, to seriously observe the lockout makes it explicit that he was really concerned of their welfare.

Being the prime minister he should have dealt the matter in an inclusive manner, but this element was completely missing. The coronavirus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. The 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by Narendra Modi is purely a gamble to stop the alarming increase of patients infected by the corona and allow the microbe to emerge slower. His entire focus was on rich and middle class people. The poor and daily wage earners did not figure in his design.

Modi announced the lockdown on a day India’s cumulative count of coronavirus patients climbed to 600, including 10 deaths, and amid concerns that without strong interventions, the number could rise to hundreds of thousands of patients within a month.

One thing ought to not to be ignored is, Indian doctors during this period managed to pure 41 patients with the traditional medicines and preventive mechanisms. If Modi and his government would have taken the development seriously, just after the first case was reported then India and its poor people might not have to this precarious situation.

Modi has the penchant of self-eulogy and this was visible on March 25 when he interacted with his supporters in Varanasi through video conferencing. He must be complemented for indulging in jugglery of words. He drew a parallel from Mahabharta and told his audience that fight between Kauravs and Pandavas ended after 18 days and the war with corona would terminate on 21 st day. This was really incredible. How could he assure the people that virus crisis will end on April 14, the last day of the 21 st day period? With huge number of vulnerable poor daily wage number exposed to the threat of the attack from corona, his statement is indeed misleading.

The only possible explanation could be the death of these people by corona would be entered into the record book of the government. There are many diseases which could be cited as the possible reasons for their deaths. Incidentally experts assert that the 21-day lockdown is unlikely to completely extinguish the virus. “What we’re doing is buying precious time through good old-fashioned isolation and quarantine,” said Gagandeep Kang, a medical virologist and director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad (Haryana).

Virologists say the virus is likely to persist even in the weeks after the lockdown that would require people to continue to adopt hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to protect themselves from the infection.

The government may manage to meet the challenge for the next three or four months. But what after that? With market already in turmoil and agriculture receiving a major setback, the economic situation will further deteriorate. India has already been the worst ever crisis and shutdown, just before the onslaught of the virus. The financial crunch and production deficiency, with manufacturing activity coming to a complete halt for next couple of months, will push the country to the brink of financial disaster.

A couple of days back Modi reiterated that the Centre and state governments will take all steps to ensure the supply of “essential items” during the lockdown to combat the coronavirus. But this is also a bare fact that the stock could not be replenished after three month of lockdown. It will completely turn the system dysfunctional. Apprehensions are already expressed that Rabi crop will not be in a position to cope the crisis though officials claim otherwise.

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