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The Class Question Of The Covid-19 Pandemic In India

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The demographic trajectory of the nCovid-19 pandemic has entered a critical phase in India. Under the current circumstances, going by the WHO standards, it can be classified as being in its second stage, whereby the disease is contained within the local boundaries, and the thread of transmission can be established.

Migrant workers leave Lucknow on the second day of national lockdown imposed by PM Narendra Modi to curb the spread of coronavirus at Faizabad crossings, on March 26, 2020 iN Lucknow, India. (Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

However, given the quantum of population, overworked and unsatisfactory healthcare infrastructure, the sheer intensity of behavioral change required to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus, India is highly likely to enter the third stage of the disease, when community transmission begins. In such a situation, the implications of the pandemic could be worse than imagined. Even if the future circumstances are weighed lightly, as social scientists, it becomes imperative to deliberate on how the social classes fare out in the face of the nCovid-19 pandemic.

The Government of India announced the restrictions over air travel, rail travel (PIB, 10 March 2020), and several state governments had followed suit either by implementing lockdowns or using legal sanctions to impose a curfew. Nearly all states and authorities have ordered a moratorium on the functioning of non-essential activities, accompanied by advisories to people such as casual laborers, migrants, and students to return to their homes.

Halting the non-essential activities that require any form of person-to-person interaction is the quintessential step and almost a sine qua non for preventing mass transmission of the disease. With this step, avenues that could have served to spread the virus have been blocked and might as well be a very courageous and prudent decision to prevent a situation as critical as Italy happening in India.

Migrants stranded at the Anand Vihar ISBT, Delhi amid the nation wide lockdown.

However, it needs to be understood to what extent the lockdown/curfew could be sustained successfully before the bare necessities of life force people out of their homes—when staying at home becomes a greater monster compared to going out to eke a living in the risk of getting the disease for them. And who are these people going to be?

It would be gross, naive and insensitive to state that the implications of the pandemic on any section of the society should not be ignored because each class has its own set of problems while dealing with the disease. However, responses within classes are likely to be similar. Nevertheless, humans rarely interact with their environment (epidemiological environment in this case) as an amorphous whole. They always base their decisions and act as members of a community and class.

While the origin of the nCovid-19 remains shrouded in mystery, with absolute conviction, it can be stated that the cross-border spread has primarily been the result of the affluent, with the aviation sector serving as the medium and the affluent class being the carrier. Even in India, the earliest reported cases pertained to considerably wealthy travelers entering India via aviation. In India, it can be safely inferred that the affluent urban class stands the best chances in avoiding the nCovid-19, with enough resources and finance at their disposal, enough space to isolate and quarantine, the capacity to seek medical help in case of infection.

The rural elite might lag in their access to healthcare, but certainly, they can afford to stay indoors for days at a stretch and observe the lockdown. The middle class, which forms the most significant demographic chunk, is likely to play the most decisive role in determining how far and how intensely the pandemic would spread.

Presently, this class appears to be supporting the lockdown, but a large section within this class faces a vast information gap for the state-based strategies to be effective. The pertinent question regarding this class is: how long will it be willing to observe the lockdown, and what would be the consequences once the tipping point is reached?

The relatively poor class of people, both in urban and rural areas, unfortunately, stand to lose the most in situations such as that of a pandemic. They are at a disadvantage both in terms of resources and information. The street vendors, casual laborers, self-employed are at the highest risks, though few states like Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, etc., have also come with various welfare plans for this class. Still, what economic resources they possess and how long will they be able to sustain on it remains doubtful.

Secondly, the information disability that they face might make the pandemic explode within this section. India lacks big time, the social security system to ensure that the weak and poor are adequately cared for in times of crisis, or even otherwise. The Indian economy has already been in a slowdown for a considerable period, and added to that, the large scale shutting down of economic activities in the wake of the pandemic is showing signs of becoming an intolerable financial burden on the public exchequer.

If nCovid-19 reaches its third phase, it is difficult to fathom the circumstances that might arise and whether there would be any strategy to deal with it. The situations that the socially weak and the poor find themselves in makes them the most vulnerable to infection. The most evident instance of such a situation was observed at the bus terminals across the country with people traveling in mass, in the face of the active threat of the pandemic. Even the aftershocks once the pandemic ends would have too high a magnitude for them to absorb.

More News On Coronavirus

How Can The Govt Support Informal Workers During The COVID-19 Crisis?

Coronavirus: Why Was The Bihar Govt Silent On The Return Of Migrants?

Viruses Don’t Discriminate: Are India’s Covid-19 Measures Disabled-Friendly?

Kashmir Can Survive Lockdown And Curfew, But Can It Survive A Pandemic?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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