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Home > 2020 > LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.6

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 20, New Delhi, May 2, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.6

Sunday 3 May 2020

Yesterday the Centre extended the nationwide lockdown for the second time for two weeks starting May 4. However, considerable relaxations have been announced in the green and orange zones; these include movement of private and public transport within a state as well as further opening up of the economy.

The three district-wise zones are defined as green (that is those districts — 319 in all — with either no confirmed cases of COVID-19 till date or not confirmed in the last 21 days); Red (that is, the districts - 130 - which is most affected by Corona Virus taking into account the total number of active cases, doubling the rate of confirmed cases, extent of testing and similar feedbacks from the districts); orange (that is those - 284 districts which are neither defined as red nor as green)

Of the 733 districts across the country, 17.7 % are classified as red zones, 38.7% as orange zones and 43.5% as green. Significantly all the major cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata continue to remain in the red zone.

Meanwhile, a day after the Centre said that buses will be used to take migrant workers to their home States, the Indian Railways on May 1 also declared the launching of ’Shramik Special trains’ to transport workers, students and tourists following a go-ahead from the Union Home Ministry. With many states having approached the Railways for this purpose the special trains are expected to become a regular feature in the coming weeks.

Late at night, there were reports that the Nashik-Lucknow Special train was being rescheduled.

It is anticipated that these trains would be able to facilitate movement of a large number of people in less time than would have been possible if only buses were employed for the purpose. If this becomes a reality then one would definitely hope that the trauma and suffering the migrant workers were forced to endure in the recent past would finally come to an end.

In the past week Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which maintains the world’s leading database on military spending released its latest data, which points out that total global military expenditure rose to $1917 billion in 2019. And it lists India as the third largest arms spender in 2019 but readers would do well to compare these figures with India’s expenditure on social, educational, ecological and health security of its citizens which is abysmally low.

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Steps taken by governments across the globe to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic are quite unprecedented in scale. The media in India is reporting on national figures on numbers of infections and the numbers of dead and much of this is constantly being compared to the numbers in Western world instead of comparing these with the third world. India is in the midst of world’s largest and perhaps most drastic lockdown – locking out the poor and vulnerable majority who have no access to social protections and economic security which exacerbate already existing inequalities. The past experience of organizing lockdowns in India is mostly based on regions which have seen emergencies and where democratic institutions have been put on a squeeze in the name of security. So now in the past several weeks when the normal political and social life has been suspended the government is using the health emergency to bringing in measures that have wide ranging implications – Order (in Gujarat) to exempt factories from the provision of 8-hour workdays; a freeze on DA for all govt employees, virtually imposing the introduction of ‘Arogya Setu’ very invasive contact tracing mobile phone application with no safeguards; using the police to arrest and intimidate political activists and dissenting voices in society. Arm twisting the media in the name of controls over misinformation regarding the pandemic has been happening – here are details on two recent incidents in the Andaman Islands and in Coimbatore.

“Locking up anyone for criticism — 27 April, Zubair Ahmed, a journalist in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was arrested by the police for a tweet in which he questioned why the authorities had allegedly asked a family to home-quarantine, based merely on a phone call between them and someone who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Four days before that, on 23 April, it was Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, the founder of Coimbatore-based web portal SimpliCity, who was arrested by the police for reports on his website about a shortage of food for student doctors working at the Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital, as well as alleged siphoning of rations and provisions meant for the poor.

In neither of the two cases have the local police expressly shown that what the journalists said was untrue. Instead, in what could become a dangerous trend, they are seeking to use legal provisions relating to the COVID-19 crisis to target these journalists – only to stop them from asking uncomfortable questions.

–- excerpt from report ‘COVID is NOT an Excuse for Arrest of Andamans, Coimbatore Journos’ by Vakasha Sachdev in The Quint, 30 April 2020
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We have just been informed that the national lockdown in India is now extended till 17 May. Now each extension of the lockdown comes a new spectacle – this time on 3rd of May 2020, the Armed forces – the Indian Air Force will be conducting a flypast from the length and breath of India; India army bands are supposed to play in every district and Navy ships in formations across the coast …. geared to celebrate the Corona Warriors …. All this should cost lots of money but then authorities have decided they want a spectacle for TV.

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Yesterday was the International Labour Day (May 1). In an edit page article in the Indian Express yesterday, two reputed social activists Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy recalled the importance of May 1 in the context of the ’Haymarket’ uprising that led to an 8 hour working day and a long and successful struggle for a more just and humane world.

And in the same page in that very publication D Raja, the General Secretary of the CPI, observed: "The COVID-19 pandemic is haunting the world. It has been devastating the lives of people due to mass employment, poverty, hunger and despair. The conditions are worsening as economic inequality grows. The poor and working people are bearing the burden of the lockdown the world over.... The lockdown in India has impacted the future of our unemployed young people, students and children." .....

..... World capitalism is in very bad health. Instead of spending on public health, education and social infrastructure, there is competitive spending on military and war equipment. The report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reveals that India is the third largest military spender after the US and China. Socialism is the only alternative. But there is the lure of fascism and neo-fascism. This trend is encouraged by the corporate capitalists.

On this May Day, while saluting the working people for their historic revolutionary role, we renew our pledge to fight for socialism - a society free from exploitation, injustice and all forms of discrimination.

Let us observe this May Day during the lockdown by reaching out to the needy and vulnerable. Let the working people rise against the present government as they rose against the colonial rulers for the independence of the country."

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In conclusion, we offer our sincere tributes to two outstanding film personalities and an ace footballer who passed away recently creating a void in the world of films and sports. They were Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor and Chuni Goswami. None of them was a victim of COVID-19 but due to their demise, we consider it necessary to convey our homage to their abiding memory.

MAY 2 THE EDITOR

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