When India’s most stringent lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I was stuck in Delhi, seeing things changing in front of me. I was witnessing changes that I hadn’t expected. The always crowded and buzzing city became desolated overnight and, one could hear only the sirens of police jeeps on empty roads.
As coronavirus was multiplying around the world, India was waiting for its turn- to get infected with the deadly virus. Nobody had expected the sort of crisis that we are living through.
The virus first originated in the city of Wuhan in China and, then it spread its arms and moved around the world, engulfing the human civilization. When it halted, the world completely (WHO) – World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.
The cases kept multiplying each day around the world during early January and the Indian government kept watching like a mute spectator. But then when the first case was reported in the state of Kerala, a student who had returned home back from Wuhan, the government got notified that the virus had arrived in India.
In the coming days as more cases were reported, Kerala declared a state emergency. Still, the government was not serious enough about the upcoming crisis. When Delhi also reported a case and other states too followed the numbers, the Indian government realized that the virus had really arrived on our doorsteps.
As the virus had arrived in India, the government woke up from hibernation. The cases were doubling each day. There was no model or expert advice taken by the government to deal with the pandemic.
On March 22, PM Narendra Modi came on TV and gave a call for ‘Janata Curfew’ to break the chain of the virus. Shops, public transport, cinema halls, metros were shut. People were off roads. There was a complete shutdown. People cooperated with his call and believed that it would break the chain of the virus. But, in the coming day’s things weren’t the same as expected. The government was not prepared for the crisis ahead.
Days after the Janata Curfew, PM Narendra Modi, as he does always, came on TV again and announced a nationwide lockdown for fourteen days to fight against the coronavirus. He appealed to people to exercise calm. This abrupt news of the lockdown frustrated people.
Thousands of others who were stuck in other cities and couldn’t make it to their homes, like me, were shattered by the news of the abrupt lockdown. My parents were furious with the news.
As the strictest lockdown was in place and the sun was blazing, the working-class people working and living in the major cities of India started to move out in search of food and water. Labourers, migrant workers defied the curfew and COVID-19 protocols to travel back to their villages. With no transport available, they walked barefoot on burning streets with children hanging on their shoulders.
We saw swarms of people moving towards their homes. Some managed to reach their homes but some didn’t and died midway. It was not the virus that killed them but the hunger and thirst.
While most of us who were privileged enough to afford the lockdown were worried about developing a hobby, making dishes, or killing time, there were people who couldn’t afford the lockdown and were on the streets and died silently without making news.
On the other side, Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz was declared a COVID-19 hotspot, and Tablighi Jamaat was blamed for being the conspirators of the virus. Mainstream media pulled out their cameras from the real crisis to polarize the Markaz issue. And, it successfully did. Following this, we saw a backlash of the media’s polarization campaign. Videos went viral on social media.
The virus was called the ‘Muslim Virus‘ and news channels debated its consequences. Congratulations, the media did it again. But the mainstream media forgot to tell us whether the virus had a beard or not. Was it an extremist one or a moderate one?
All this made India one of the worse hit countries by the virus in the world. What the government could’ve done was to act seriously earlier when the cases were less and when there was time. It could’ve acted when crises were unfolding around the world. It could’ve set up a crisis management team to monitor the situation. But unfortunately, the government didn’t pay heed to alarming numbers until things went out of control.
Ordering an abrupt lockdown was not an option at all. If it was, then it was the worst of all. Because the virus is still roaming, alive, and free.
Mir Umar is a student of English Literature at the University of Delhi.