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Opinion: “Will The Government Ever Be Prepared For A Pandemic?”

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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.

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is upon India with greater ferocity. The pandemic started in late 2019, had spread from China to Europe and had just touched the shores of the U.S.A. The Government of India was warned and well aware of the impending crisis, but it dithered in closing international borders.

The result was an epidemic like situation, which resulted in a harsh lockdown of people and millions suffered in the aftermath with unemployment and hunger.

lockdown
Representative Image.

This time around, the reason for the lockdown is even more ridiculous. Restrictions were eased, life seemed to be getting back to normal and the government even boasted that India had beaten the virus without any supporting evidence. Festivals were allowed to be organised and the Election Commission announced state assembly elections. There was a massive congregation for the Kumbh Mela festival and huge election rallies in five states.

It is peak summer across most of India at this time and people are vulnerable to falling sick. People tend to eat less food and sleep less when the weather becomes hot, which results in reduced immunity. So it is no surprise that COVID-19 has reared up its ugly head again.

Lockdowns are essentially the government’s way of saying it is incapable of handling an escalating situation, abdicating responsibility and passing the buck on to the people. In simple terms, diseases are conflicts between higher order and lower order organisms in nature and along with the food chain is how nature keeps the population of every living being under control. Microorganisms are constantly mutating and evolving in nature.

A disease of any magnitude could break out at any time in nature. We have always been living on this ticking time bomb. Even if the government does not understand this, it is its responsibility to improve and ramp up the country’s health infrastructure constantly.

In India, in most states, education and health are on the lowest side of the government’s priority list. So, will the government ever be prepared for a pandemic? This governance failure is passed on to the people and people are made to suffer. Locking people up inside their homes has the detrimental effect of lowering their immunity level and making them vulnerable to more diseases, but the government is shortsighted enough to focus on winning a battle now and not being able to see a war coming in the future.

Kerala government is coming up with weird rules as it began a statewide lockdown yesterday. Unlike during the last year’s lockdown, when supermarkets were allowed to function, this time supermarkets have been closed down. Supermarkets are the best places to manage crowds and enforce social distancing.

Now, people are rushing to local stores where crowd control and social distancing is impossible. Opening supermarket stores will distribute the people among the supermarkets and local shops and reduce the possibility of transmission. In a nearby local store, two customers were apparently squabbling over one remaining packet of bread. I wrote to the district collector to consider opening supermarkets and received no response.

Now, the government has come up with a website portal for generating e-pass for emergency travel within respective cities and towns. The instructions state that even for medical emergencies, people have to apply for the e-pass, wait for approval, print it and carry it with them. The irony here is that the government expects everyone who has internet access at home also to own printers.

Printing is usually done at local internet browsing centres, which are all shut down now. Upon enquiry, I was told two things:

  1. Call the local councillor and they would make all arrangements.
  2. A self-written affidavit was enough for medical emergencies.
Covid Death Toll Continues To Rise In India
Representative Image. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

They expect someone to sit and write an affidavit or call the counsellor and wait when their father/mother/sibling needs emergency medical care. This is the level of incompetence and complete lack of rationale that plagues India’s civil administration.

The virulence of COVID-19 is of very small magnitude when compared to the virus that caused smallpox. Millions have died because of smallpox and my granny used to say that wailing could be heard from every other house because death was everywhere.

When a foreign substance of any form enters our body, our immune system immediately mobilises itself to fight and destroy it. Our body is a sophisticated system and our immune system is designed in such a way as to aggressively restore the balance of the body when something causes an imbalance.

The first step is to isolate the foreign substance and prevent it from multiplying and spreading through the blood. Once this is done, the immune system will eliminate the foreign substance. In the case of COVID-19, the first step is failing and the immune system tries more aggressively to attack the virus. This results in the immune system losing focus from other diseases people are suffering from and the subsequent complications led to the most number of deaths in the first wave.

After the second wave has started, I am hearing about younger people and people without comorbidities getting affected. There seems to be only one reason for this. Rapid urbanisation has revamped people’s food habits and lifestyle completely, which has alienated people even further from nature.

Our immune system stays efficient only when it comes into contact with different types of microorganisms constantly, fights them and adapts itself to new diseases. This is all about information, so the greater information our immune system has about microorganisms, the better it will be able to protect us.

When a boxer quits fighting, he invariably gains weight and becomes sluggish. The same happens with the immune system when we spend our entire time holed up in A/C rooms and travel in A/C vehicles. Then, when our junk food and “eating-at-whatever-time” lifestyle leads to diseases like cholesterol, diabetes, high BP and cardiac issues, the immune system is in no state to fight them. On top of all this, when a new virus attacks us for which the immune system needs time to fight, we can only expect the worse to happen to us.

Covid-19 Oxygen
Representative Image. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi, Source: flickr)

The entire Indian system is at fault for this second wave. The Election Commission should not have gone ahead with the state assembly elections without a clear green signal from the medical fraternity. Even when the elections were declared, no political party showed any inclination to oppose the decision knowing fully well that election rallies are inevitable in the electoral process in India, which always leads to massive uncontrolled crowds.

Every political party is hungry to win elections and grab people’s power no matter what the situation is. Even the Supreme Court did not choose to step in, cancel the elections and order incumbent state governments to continue as caretaker governments.

We, the people, did not bother either. We knew what happened last year, yet we chose to go for election rallies and vote in large numbers on election day. Add to this, Indians are addicted to festivals and festivities. Even pandemics don’t matter because Gods will protect us.

The disaster the world is witnessing has been in the making from the time of India’s independence from colonial rule. India is a democracy only by its Constitution. “Rule” is still the word used instead of “govern”, especially by the media. India is “ruled” by central and respective state governments. People’s representatives become people’s rulers and become inaccessible and unaccountable after they win elections.

Corruption has become an incurable disease. Religions driven by blind belief take precedence over law and order. Orders passed by courts are imposed by the civil administration, which the government controls, so courts do not have the power to punish lapses in governance.

So, warnings of a second wave of the pandemic were conveniently ignored for conducting elections and festivals and the entire country is suffering again. Calls for Modi to resign are insensible because replacing leaders without reforming the system is not going to change anything.

Finally, what is incomprehensible is the fear of death among people, which the media is amplifying and driving into everybody’s minds. Death is a natural conclusion to life in the universe. Our sun will burn out and die in a few billion years. The universe itself is supposed to come to an end. Millions of animals and human beings are dying every day because of a variety of reasons.

Diseases are one way of population control in nature. This may not be to everybody’s taste, but this is how nature works. I say this knowing well that my parents and I could also get infected with COVID-19.

Nature follows the golden rule of “survival of the fittest”. Only the strongest will survive in nature. We moved away from nature and forgot the golden rule and to keep ourselves healthy at all times. I hope this pandemic will be a reminder for everyone to return to nature, understand nature better and improve their lifestyle drastically.

Our lives hinge on abiding and living by nature’s rules and flouting them will only lead to our own destruction.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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