The pandemic, which has brought the entire world to a standstill, is flying like a wild bird and has already claimed 879,369 lives worldwide as of September 5, 2020. The existence of two Indias has turned into a reality and the structural imbalances in various sectors have been brought into the limelight. The lockdown deserted the most vulnerable section of the society and went on to prove that similar to a market, the cities are also places for those who can buy and sell.
Cities were always perceived as the epitome of modernity, and places where people could drop their last name to avoid discrimination, but this pandemic revealed some ground realities which were visible but weren’t talked about.
Being an “Indian” in India is not enough a qualification to be treated like your own. While in the United States of America people are fighting for better working conditions for the migrant workers, whereas India fails to provide the basic social security to the pillars of our nation.
As society continues to fight this battle against the invisible enemy, the social fabric might experience a tectonic shift. With no room for preparation and only a four-hour notice before the nationwide lockdown, social solidarity is now hanging by a single thread. Scarcity of food and depletion of the cash reserves are not the only things which the migrants are running out of; hope and patience are also on the list.
Stigma is now being calculated in terms of occupation and poverty instead of caste or gender and extraordinary times are held responsible for the loss of lives.
When Emi Khamarov remarked that, “Poverty is like a punishment for a crime you didn’t commit”, he was correct. Reports claim that the workers have died almost every day since the onset of the lockdown, not because of the virus but because of being poor.
While the elite and upper class continue to sit in air-conditioned rooms and crib about not having access to the gym, the labourers die because of starvation and heat stroke.
It is estimated that nearly a hundred million homes are one-roomed and the average family size is five, which goes on to explain that social distancing is an oxymoron in India.
As we continue to think about the impending economic crisis and ways in which the economy can revive again, attention must also be thrown upon the digital inequality which exists in India.
While the workers have embarked on a trek to their native places which seems endless, they have lost their jobs and an epoch of misery awaits for them as they head back. But, life cannot stop, as a result of which, the burden of taking loans will dawn upon them very soon.
There is no doubt about the fact that the government has introduced many schemes to provide relief to the downtrodden sections of the society, but what remains unnoticed is the lack of identity proof or even a permanent shelter.
Does society remember that not everyone has a balcony to go to and beat their plates? India is home to 65 million inter-state migrants as claimed by the National Sample Survey Office.
Communities continue to look at the high-rise building and apartments and neglect the hands which put the cement on them. The impossibility of social distancing in slums was overlooked, and in addition, providing even a simple route that trains could take to transport the migrants, was not categorized as a necessity.
The plight of the workers cannot be weighed and rated on a scale of one to ten. There are numerous toddlers who have tried to wake their dead mothers’ platforms; many who carried their fathers back home on their shoulders, many who committed suicide and many who barely received food in a forty-hour long journey. March 21, 2020, triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers, who now face uncertainty and the loss of income. This is proving to be catastrophic in many areas.
As prosperity continues to trickle down and crisis comes in torrents, the workers are more hurt than angry.
The brutality faced by these migrants cannot be denied; not considering their existence was a grave mistake. The most social animals will fight against this virus and will end the battle, but what needs to be realized is washing hands is a privilege in a country where almost 50% of the population gets clean water only once a day. Along with the macro-level consequences of this crisis the psychological capability of the workers are at a stake.
While the middle and upper class continues to fight against COVID-19, the vulnerable section of the society is fighting for survival, and basic necessities, which include a meal and not fancy ingredients for baking a cake.