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Can We Return To Where We Were Before Covid-19 Struck, And Should We?

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

US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to a standstill and India is no exception. The country entered into a nationwide lockdown on March 25 2020 and since then socio-economic problems have been on the surge. The various vulnerable sections of the society are deeply impacted by the lockdown and are likely to be the worst victims of the pandemic. COVID-19 has exposed the deep-seated inequalities in our society. None of us is unaware of the plight of the migrant workers and various other atrocities meted out to people based on their castes.

Even the most developed countries of the world are now facing severe shortages of medical facilities to cater to the increasing medical needs of the people. The health system of many developed, as well as developing countries, have broken down completely thus removing the North-South paradigm eroding the importance of the traditional development actors in the global economy. In such circumstances, we need to rethink our policies about various sectors and sections of society and reconsider the measures undertaken to have a better life post-pandemic.

Shortcomings Of The Health Sector

A worker sprays disinfectants inside a hospital as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Jammu. (PTI Photo)
Representational image.

The glaring inefficiency of the health sector in meeting the needs of the general public has been the biggest eye-opener of this pandemic. Increasing privatization of the health services in various countries has proved to be fatal as the number of hospital beds especially in the intensive care units, has decreased in comparison to the population.

In Italy, which is one of the worst victims of the pandemic outbreak, hospital beds have reduced by almost one third over the past 20 years. In India, there are only 0.55 beds per 1000 population. There are approximately 713,986 government hospital beds in India out of which only 5 to 8% are ICU beds.

The abysmally low number of beds in government hospitals is an example of how much harm the neoliberal regime and its policies of privatization of essential services have caused to the health infrastructure of the country.

Since the global financial crisis, a lot of countries have slashed budgets in the health sector and letting private for-profit medical companies taking the upper hand in providing medical care. This has led to more investments and promotion of those treatments and operations that are economically profitable and lucrative thereby leading to negligence of basic primary healthcare.

In the current health crisis, in most of the countries, it is the public health care services that are helping people in fighting against the pandemic. In such situations, isn’t it imperative that we take a lesson from this and invest more in the public health infrastructure in the future rather than slashing funds?

Policy Measures By The Indian Government 

Apart from the shortcomings of the health sector, another disastrous situation that India has faced amidst the pandemic is the plight of the migrant workers. The government in its vision to rebuild the Indian Economy to cope with the economic breakdown owing to the lockdown had launched the ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ relief package. While the package has received its share of appreciations and criticisms, a lot of people think that it cannot restore the moral compass of India that it has lost in its ignorance towards the marginalized sections of the society.

The government no doubt has put in its best efforts to revive the economy by introducing measures like selling of only indigenous products in the canteens of CRPFs and BSFs, collateral-free loans up to Rs. 3 lakh crore for businesses including MSMEs, no global tender worth up to Rs. 200 crore for MSMEs etc.

However, in the rut to promote a ‘nationalist’ economy, the government has forgotten about the plight of hundreds and thousands of migrant workers and the immediate relief that these workers would require. It had no immediate measures for the poor and hungry workers who had been walking miles with most of the meetings with deaths on their way back home.

Even after the arrangement of Shramik special trains, most of the workers had to walk to reach their homes because of the mismanagement and ignorance on part of the governments. It had also been reported by various news channels in places that the workers had to pay for the train fares.

Another disastrous situation that India has faced amidst the pandemic is the plight of the migrant workers/Representational image.

In such circumstances, the focus of the government’s schemes should have been more on the immediate relief measures of such workers through prompt response to their urgent needs of food and shelter. Future policies regarding the generation of 100 days of work through MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), ration to all through ‘One Nation, One Ration’ though sound very positive does not address the immediate loopholes that have been the cause of the various unfortunate incidents to which various migrant workers have fallen prey to.

While the central government launched a relief package, some state governments have walked on more regressive lines. In a recent move by the world’s largest democracy, six states as of now have walked on the path of waiving off labour laws to revive the economy at least for the upcoming 3 years.

The Yogi Adityanath led government of Uttar Pradesh was the first one to announce by removing 35 out of the 38 existing labour laws followed by multiple other states.

The laws that remain intact are Section 5 (about the timely payment of wages) of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923; The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; and the Building and Other Construction Worker’s Act 1996 and also the provisions related to the employment of children and women.

This move by the state governments is an infringement upon the basic rights of the workers such as the right to dignified work and wages in safe working conditions, a maximum of 8 work hours per day, etc. The changes in the labour laws allow industries to increase the workday to 12 hours without any compulsory overtime payments and no restrictions on hiring and firing. Workers no longer have an entitlement to basic sanitation facilities, ideal and safe working conditions.

The daily wage and migrant workers have been the worst affected due to the lockdown. And the recent move by some of the states made it clear that they are also going to be the worst victims of the aftermath of lockdown. Not only have they lost their jobs due to the ongoing crisis but will also have to get back to work under inhumane and exploitative conditions without social security, insurance, pension, and other benefits.

In the post-pandemic world, there is a high probability that they will be exploited in as many ways as possible by the employers as they will have no option but to give in to earn their livelihoods. This move can be a case of Human Rights Violation as our Indian Judiciary itself recognizes that paying workers below the threshold of minimum wages can lead to a situation of bondage. The rights of the workers to dignified employment is a human right that various state governments are taking away in the name of strengthening the foundations of the economy.

Conclusion 

COVID-19 has revealed the stark realities of the mismanagement on part of the government/Representational image.

COVID-19 has revealed the stark realities of the mismanagement on part of the government and has shown us how the neoliberal policy of increasing the role of the market isn’t a sustainable practice. For us to prepare for an economically viable and sustainable life post-pandemic, coherence in the policy measures along with increasing public investment in the basic infrastructural facilities such as health and research is the need of the hour.

While the Indian government has been trying to introduce various measures to strengthen the economy post COVID, the policies have been limited and somewhat in a disarray. Consistency needs to be maintained between the policies introduced by the states and the central government.

Greater government intervention in essential services such as sanitation facilities (proper drainage especially in the slums), primary health care (increased outdoor check up facilities, regular health camps especially in rural areas), and research facilities in the medical and technological field for more sustainable lives is required.

The government needs to focus on the education sector from the local to the state level because the loss of jobs and security amidst the pandemic will lead to a large number of school dropouts. In such a scenario, ensuring free education for all through the government-aided schools and public institutions should be a priority.

Market forces do not work efficiently in such sectors because of the limited or no scope of earning profits. Hence, the government needs to stop handing over such facilities to the private sectors through tenders and contracts. Direct intervention by the government and increasing expenditures by the public sector is the only way to ensure safeguard against possible future health, social and economic emergencies.

Returning to normal isn’t the solution when that normal was the problem.

You must be to comment.
  1. Anil Kumar

    the situation is different now, builders and owners have been jolted continuously second time by the economic crisis due to demonetization and COVID 19. That’s why they are ready to sell the property or flats anyhow that is resulting as the price is reached low at the stage of the sale.

    Regards
    Anil Kumar Rana – Real Estate Solution Specialist @ http://www.trisolred.com

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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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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