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“Act, Not React”: What India’s COVID-19 Strategy Is Missing

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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.

Act, don’t react.”

This is my one-line advice to the central government on their efforts to deal with the Coronavirus crisis.

Before I further my point, I know a substantial number of people will question the sheer act of me questioning the government at the time of a crisis like this. “It’s not the time to be political.”

But, if you ask me this is the perfect time to be political. It is the perfect time to assess the qualities of our leaders, analyse the health infrastructure and their effectiveness in crisis management. I will elaborate my point with two examples across the globe.

China, from where this virus is said to have originated, has a totalitarian form of government. The Communist Party of China is the only political party and there is no opposition and media to challenge their decisions. If the was some restraints on their power, I feel the information regarding the spread of the virus would have been out to the world sooner than it did right now. News reports talk about how China did not tell the world how contagious this virus is until about January 21.

a doctor wearing a mask leaning on a wall and speaking into a phone as they look out the window
Representational image. Image credit: Getty Images.

The other example is of the United States, which took the problem casually. President Trump wanted to shift all the blame to China and was persistent in calling it the “Chinese virus” instead of dealing with the problem itself. He was in complete denial of the statistics related to the problem caused by COVID-19 virus and the warnings of the medical professional.

Trump, like many other evaders in the world, was more concerned with how the crisis reflected his public image ahead d of the elections instead of dealing with the crisis itself. The result is that as of 27th March, USA recorded more than 91,000 cases, more than China.

It is the perfect time to assess the political systems and leadership. The citizens must ask the relevant questions to their respective governments.

Coming back to India, I feel the response of the Modi government has been a little laidback. Instead of acting on the situation, they have been reacting to it. Their policies and announcements seem inspired by other nations and the state governments.

The party at the centre was very keen into coming into power in Madhya Pradesh that it, like Trump, was ignoring the warnings regarding the seriousness of the situation. The leader of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, (in a tweet on February 12) and other medical professionals were warning the government.

The Prime Minister finally addressed the nation on March 18, 2020, in an inspiring speech where he addressed the crisis in a very lucid manner, the way it can reach more and more people. He announced a Janata Curfew on 22 March. The first instance of Modi government being reactive rather than active can be traced to their idea of coming to the balconies and clapping and cheering for five minutes, an idea inspired by the people of Italy. A great gesture, but I think we all have enough evidence on how exactly that went wrong.

On this day itself and the next day, the Chief Minister’s of different states started announcing lockdowns until March 31. The Prime Minister called for a nationwide 21-day lockdown on 24 March. The speech came at 8 PM and again and led to panic buying as the leader-in-chief failed to clarify the point that essentials would be available in the half-an-hour address. I would personally criticise his use of the word “curfew” and his tone, which resulted in panic.

Representational image.

Nirmala Sitaraman, the finance minister announced 1,70,000 crores in economic reforms to assist the poor. This announcement again came as late as on 26th March, while many state governments had already announced their economic packages. The central government cheekily called this as the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan scheme. Alright, what’s there in the name?

All this while, the government hasn’t been able to work on the actual crisis of shortage of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). The amount of testing has been also awfully low due to lack of testing equipment.

The state governments, be it Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal have been more proactive, I feel. The federal structure of India is fixing the gaps created by the ‘passiveness’ of the Central government. I hope India comes out strong from this. The spread of the disease be minimized and people can survive both COVID-19 and the lockdown.

You must be to comment.
  1. MKM Faiyaz Ahmed

    Rightly said, the Governments across the world has been very casual about this unknown virus. Being an Indian, I can assess our scenario. We were slow to react and then a common man lacks awareness. The police were quick in lathi charge to the ones on the street during lockdown but what about educating them? During elections we all know how the announcements on streets were made. Why not during this time? Why didn’t they set up loud speakers the way they set it up during religious occasion? What’s more worrisome? We don’t have good facilities for quarantine. I am sure it’s gonna be long night for the Indians.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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