Mumbai/31 May 2021/By Swonshutaa Dash
TW: COVID Death
What was once considered a “small-time flu” has now turned into a full-blown pandemic. Coronavirus has drained India’s resources and hollowed its treasuries. After a partly successful recovery from the first wave, Prime Minister Modi’s gloating speech at the World Economic Forum may have manifested the second wave we have brought upon us. India has been obliterated- democratically, economically, technologically, and medically. Lest we realize how humongous the demon chasing us is, there are grim prospects of “ache din (good days)”.
Election rallies at the peak of the pandemic worsened the second wave.
The coronavirus was an unprecedented phenomenon that the government (of India), like a hormonal teenager, made all about itself and its problems. India ranked 142 out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index, which justifies the hypocrisy that is seen in the statements made by them. Chief Minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh’s saffron-robed Yogi Adityanath announced that rumormongers who claimed there was an oxygen shortage would be arrested without bail under the National Security Act and their property would be seized. I hope he is happy now that images of fires lapping dead bodies in mass funerals and bodies floating in the holy Ganges are haunting each citizen.
In 2020, when the Tablighi Jamaat (conference of the Islamic organization) was organized, Delhi (the capital of India) became a hotspot for CoVID cases. One-fourth of the case detected in Delhi were suspected to have originated from the conference. The media had (then) run a campaign against those at the conference calling them “corona jihadis” and accusing them of “crimes against humanity.” No such fuss was seen when the Hindu pilgrimage festival, the Kumbh Mela, was organized in April 2021, just as the second wave hit India.
Over 15 days, Haridwar saw four times more cases than reported before. Prime Minister Modi instead of condemning the gathering of 14 Lakh Hindus condoned the spiritual bathing ritual and suggested that this might be an idea for the holy dip to become “symbolic”. Amidst this religious raucous, the Prime Minister was running his political campaign with his main man, Home Minister Amit Shah, in West Bengal.
There, he addressed maskless crowds, applauding them for participation. The elections of the state that could have been conducted in a single day (as has been done in the past), was made a month-long affair. Post-election, West Bengal suffered miserably as the virus spread to rural Bengal which had earlier been spared, and saw its highest single-day spike, as 18+ vaccinations were delayed due to insufficiency.
The government showed incompetence at the peak of the second wave, making it evident that their priorities rested elsewhere, leading to the deaths of friends and family, and leaving hundreds of protesting farmers teargassed on the streets.
“As a country and as a state, we declared victory too soon, we were complacent, we were callous, we were ignorant, and we were casual.”- Barkha Dutt
There was a lack of preparation by the government for the COVID vaccination program.
The Indian infrastructure from 2020 to 2021, has seen marginal development, but high inefficacy to handle future pandemics with the current set of resources. Vaccination is the biggest problem at hand for the Indian polity. The government in this crucial hour of need has forfeited its responsibility of vaccination largely bypassing the baton to state governments after failing miserably at procurement efforts. By mid-February, the GOI had ordered barely enough vaccines for 3% of the Indian population. Curbing exports in April did not trump the problem.
Vaccination of minors is a distant issue as states struggle with doses for the 18+ population which were supposed to open on 1 May 2021. It seems that Indian politician’s propaganda has clouded their ability to plan for the future. India relies on the Serum Institute of India (with Oxford University) and Bharat Biotech (with National Institute of Virology) which can produce 110 M units a month. With each vaccine requiring two doses (2B doses total), the NEGVAC should have been prompted that such large-scale production would require immense time and effort and should have made bookings on a larger scale such as the US or the UK.
The pandemic inflicted neglect on Indian minorities such as Adivasis, the Rohingya tribe, etc. While the Rohingya’s lacked documentation or money for acquiring vaccines, the Adivasis health stats have declined. The problems Adivasis faced were: Unavailability of drugs and providers (56.5% and 54.9% respectively), concerns of an absence of a female provider (45%), issues of distance to health facilities (42%), and lack of transport (40.9%). Reports suggest that tribal affairs minister Renuka Singh quoted from a non-existent study that less than 3% of the Adivasi population was affected by the coronavirus. In the absence of robust healthcare, several minorities have resorted to unverified home remedies and coping mechanisms.
The crumbling Indian health infrastructure has seen a major setback in the pandemic. India spent $73 on healthcare per capita, the world average is $1110 in 2018. Government healthcare facilities are used by less than a third of Indians. In the deeply poverty-stricken demography of India, state-of-the-art healthcare is accessible to a marginal elite population. If this is not addressed, the resurgence of a pandemic will leave India in the rubble.
In trying times such as the pandemic, India needs new members of the parliament, not a new Central Vista (the construction of the Central Vista continued even as the death toll rose in India). It is time to set propaganda aside and treat the pandemic as a medical and humanitarian crisis rather than an opportunity to exploit the masses (Eg. by introducing the controversial Farmers Bill).
5 possible solutions: