Monday, February 6, 2023
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Real social distancing: Special planes for India’s rich, police lathis for working-class poor

Thousands of working-class poor are on the move due to the coronavirus lockdown imposed by Modi with only four hours' notice, only to face a brutal police crackdown.

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India has no dearth of intelligent people. They link the sound of conch shells and clapping with vibrations and scientific equations that can kill any virus. They can even link the 21-day nationwide lockdown to planetary constellations. But they will never be able to connect with the country’s marginalised people — the poor, migrant workers and daily labourers.

Thousands of labourers and working-class poor are being forced to move from one place to another due to the coronavirus lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with only four-hours notice. Many of them are walking hundreds of kilometres carrying their children on their shoulders. These people have already been adjudged as the casualties in the war against coronavirus. While imposing the lockdown, no one spared a thought about what would happen to them.

No one was worried for them even in February, when a wide-eyed India welcomed US President Donald Trump with open arms. At that time, the poor were seen as a cause for embarrassment, and their slums were hidden behind a wall to make sure Trump doesn’t see them.

But the upper-class was still not done. The rich returned from their travels abroad carrying the novel coronavirus. The Narendra Modi government didn’t stop them from entering the country or screen them properly. By the time the government could detect the ‘infected’, it was too late. The damage had been done. Restrictions came in, which led to thousands of Indians getting stuck in foreign countries. The Modi government promptly ordered special planes to fly and bring them back.

But within India, the government couldn’t see the millions of poor people affected by the pandemic. Not a single vehicle was arranged for them — after all the trains, buses, autos and rickshaws had been stopped. Many of these people don’t know what coronavirus, quarantine, Covid-19 or lockdown means. It’s not their fault that they don’t.

Also read: How lockdown is disrupting the village economy in UP, one farmer at a time

The great divide

India reported its first positive Covid-19 case on 30 January. The Modi government had all the time in the world but it didn’t wake up to the plight of India’s poor. As the days passed, the government started making some arrangements — for the rich coming from abroad. Then came the festival of Holi. Most travellers during this period were people from the poor and marginalised section. They had no way to prepare and protect themselves, no idea that a deadly virus was also on the move. The virus was being passed on by the rich and most poor people had little contact with them.

The poor didn’t even know what had happened. One day they were told to clap and bang utensils — taali and thaali — so they did. Then suddenly, they were told they can’t step out and that essential goods like rice and wheat would be home-delivered.

For people who buy one kg wheat, tea and sugar every day, this seemed like Ram Rajya. They wouldn’t have to step out for anything. But they also knew that Ram Rajya can only come in Ayodhya (where Ram was born), and not for people in Hastinapur, where life can only be a Kurukshetra. And so they walked, barefoot, without food or water, to go back to their villages. The cities had shut their doors for them. But it wasn’t going to be easy. The police they ran into at every state border, every checkpoint, treated them as if they were roaming the streets with the coronavirus.

During this period of lockdown, a section of Indian society will easily protect itself. It will spend these 21 days doing all kinds of things at home — trying out new recipes, learning new skills, reading books, watching films, taking online courses, exercising. Three days into the lockdown and this group has already set things in motion. But another section is running from pillar to post in search of rice and wheat, getting beaten up by the police for defying the government, taking blows from anyone who is unhappy to see them on the streets, having its roadside thelas — and their livelihoods — turned upside down. After 21 days, we will see a new India. On one end will be the children of Kalidas and Varāhamihira; on the other will be survivors of this crusade.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has equated the fight against coronavirus with the Mahabharata. He’s right. India’s poor are like those soldiers in the Mahabharata’s battle units — the various Akshauhinis — whom no one knew but remembered as having been of some use in the war.

Views are personal.

This article has been translated from Hindi. Read the original version here.

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  1. Yesterday I was feeling and thinking on the same lines, as the article has depicted. Govt before imposing lock down within four hours of notice should have put themselves in their shoes and put a deep through over such instead of foregein stuck Indians for whom special planes were arranged. I feel government was in panic mode within the rise of covid-19 rising cases , since India having poor health infrastructure facilities.

  2. This is such a biased piece of article, I am literally speechless right now. No doubt its coming from The Print, a paper that has made career out of Modi bashing out of every move. Just scroll to the bottom of the article and you will find suggestions such as “Modi’s Covid-19 lockdown speech shows he doesn’t learn from past mistakes, or doesn’t care to” and “Modi’s poorly planned lockdown won’t save us from coronavirus, but will kill economy”. And it just boils my blood when I see educated authors running after viewership more than understanding the true disaster we are facing right now.

    COVID-19 is not a joke and in a country like India where more than 1 billion people live in such close quarters, this disease has potential to fuck up India very very badly. Just as Italy and US. Lockdown was a necessary step. Just ask US – they tried saving their economy over their people and look at the number of cases – 95k COVID-19 +ve patient. Take a moment to understand this number.

    The article describes how Modi’s decision of imposing lockdown with only 4 hours notice in hand was an ill-conceived move. What was the alternate choice then huh? Give people 1 day notice whereby people could get back to their homes or other states thereby spreading the disease further?

    The article further tries to term COVID-19 a rich man’s disease as in rich people from abroad brought this disease to India and poor section is now suffering because of it. This is being said by a person sitting in an AirConditioned office sipping hot coffee while typing on their mac book. I dont need to point out explicitly that terming COVID-19 a rich man’s disease is straightaway racist. And while according to data it is correct that novel coronavirus was brought on my people coming from abroad, this disease is more of a mankind disease rather than one particular section of one country.

    Indian government just yesterday announced free door-to-door rations to poor migrant workers. I think this author either missed that out or chose to ignore the steps that were taken. Compared to other countries, India has been the quickest to take preventive measures to curb the spread of Infection flow. China sat on the coronavirus for 2 months, US is still not on complete lockdown and Italy waited for one whole months and death of more than 1k citizens for statewise lockdown.

    Obviously, lockdown is a drastic decision and something that will surely affect not only India’s economy but global economy as well. No decision in history of the world has ever benefited everyone. But right now we don’t have any other option. If India didn’t take this drastic step and the number of deaths would have risen, this same newspaper would have cried blaming Modi to have not taken this step. Such is the hypocrisy of The PRINT.

    • No one denies that the lockdown was a wrong move. It was a very good move but was done in an unplanned manner causing a humanitarian crisis that caused misery to thousands of people. We had the same problem during demonetization. Only 4 hours were given and then more than 150 deaths standing in queues for months. This demonetization could have been done by ex PM, Dr, Manmohan Singh, a world class economist knew that demonetization would hurt the common man and the economy at large and being a man of experience did not do it. On the other hand an inexperienced first time PM without any thought of the common man went about with demonetization bring misery to millions of Indians and destroying the economy in the name of bringing black money and curbing terrorism. Same thing has happened with the lockdown now. Before giving the 21 days shutdown, the common man was ignored and only 4 hours given to prepare which was a disaster. The police on the other hand behaved worse than the colonial British masters canning people mercilessly for breaking the ill prepared curfew. People tried to stock provisions but had to bear police brutality.

  3. I ask this article writer, what that bug… has done for the country. He and his family is only producing children in bulk and are asking food from Modi. He should come forward and help poor, arrange lungers for all Hungry in the country. This dunky is simply criticising the man, our PM, who is being praised by the world. The print should not publish articles from such idiots.

  4. I ask this article writer, what that bug… has done for the country. He and his family is only producing children in bulk and are asking food from Modi. He should come forward and help poor, arrange lungers for all Hungry in the country. This dunky is simply criticising the man, our PM, who is being praised by the world. The print should not publish articles from such idiots.

  5. Fully agree. Hope people in power realise their blunder. Poor people suffered during demonitasation and now again for LACK OF LEADERSHIP.
    Mr Modi has failed once again. Instead of preventing few thousands from mingling in early Feb with crores of Indians he has now stopped crores from venturing out of their homes.

  6. At least someone is there among us who genuinely think about poor daily earner. I salute you.
    Adv. Shakil Akhtar
    Supreme Court of India

  7. So true. Their lives are dispensible according to the government. No lockdown and letting the virus grow will adversely affect the rich peoples’ lives, among whom are these politcians. What else can we expect? If they get coronavirus their money too cannot save them sometimes and they know it! Who really cares about how many of these poor people will die of hunger?

  8. Fully Agree… Please take the lead and do something for them. Seeing the visuals onTV I was feeling guilt and anger. Create some fund for them. I will try my best.

  9. So poverty is now defined as three youngsters riding bike on abandoned roads and fooling around. The writer is as foolish as youngsters on the bike

  10. Beautiful article. Sums up the reality on the ground and utter callousness of the Government which cares only for the Rich in the country. But it was the poor who voted for this Government – with amazing clarity and definiteness. They get the government they deserve.
    a k p

    • So AKP is a rich and he has not voted to this govt and do talking about the I’ll of the actions initiated by the ruling leader. If he is so smart why not suggest a better action and this leader is ready to listen from all quarters.
      My humble suggestion instead remarking involve in good action so that all together can win over the critical situation.

  11. In any case Indians are shunning the health workers for whom they supposed to have clapped. This virus have imported by globe trotting ruling class people and the poor and weak are bearing the brunt. This is the way of the world.

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