Declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization is completely justified as 192 countries are currently under the grip of this outbreak. It has affected both western developed countries and developing ones as well.
The number of cases on March 25 is 422,959 and deaths are 18,907 in which India has reported 562 cases and 11 deaths.
Strict prohibitory measures have been taken across the country and as a consequence, industries, shops and malls, tourism sector, restaurants, bus and train services, theatre and other establishments have been closed in an attempt to stop spreading the COVID-19 pathogen.
As preventive measures, these efforts are appreciable but nationwide lockdown for the next 21 days without any financial executive plan will also have a severe repercussion for economic activities and potentially create a disaster of another kind in the life of economically marginalized sections of the country.
Despite the relentless efforts of the government to retain people in their house and follow the guidelines given by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, it is being seen that the majority of people from villages do not abide by any rules and regulations as an impediment to the pandemic crisis.
The exercise of following the strategies is confined to certain sections of people and they constitute a very minimal number of the total population.
It is only followed by the people who have a legitimate source of income and a good standard lifestyle. What we see in the News and social websites like Facebook, Whatsaap, and twitter, etc. about the precautions and safety measures among the people are completely determined by this certain section of people.
But, the existing character of greater numbers is absolutely different. There are almost 6. 49 lakh villages in India and the majority of them have poor literacy rates, and also more than 50 per cent of people do not use a mobile phone. It would not be wrong to claim that a large section of them live without a trace of seriousness for the pandemic crisis. Most of the village-based markets were functioning in the day of ‘Janata Curfew’ itself.
In India, 833 million or 69 per cent of people live in rural areas. The vicious scenario of poverty in rural India is well acknowledged. Agricultural Census (2011) has estimated that 61.5 per cent of rural Indian is dependent on agriculture, and it is so true that farmers time to time confronts with exotic weather and unexpected low market values of their production.
The report released by Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) affirmed that 10,349 farmers committed suicide in 2018 which means approximately 28 farmers commit suicide per day. A total of 3, 32,603 farmers committed suicide between 1995 and 2018.
According to the World Health Organization each day more than 7000 people die of hunger and 25 lakh in a year. It is woeful to say that after 70 years of independence people still die of hunger and starvation.
Almost 34 out of 1,000 children born in the country die in the mother’s womb itself and nine lakh children die below the age of five. The World Bank report (2012) estimated that 23.6 per cent of the Indian population or about 276 million people live below the poverty line and lived with less than $ 1.25 per day purchasing power parity.
As per the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) survey, about 670 million rural Indians live on Rs 33 per day and they fall under the line of extreme poverty, and more than half of the population depends on manual labour for their livelihood. The statistic also reveals that every night approximately 19 crore people sleep on an empty stomach.
This reality of rural India should be factored and focused while planning and executing three-week-long full national lockdowns as otherwise, it will create social unrest, chaos, and misery due to the suffering of millions particularly in rural India.
The risk of COVID-19 pandemic might be high but that of hunger and starvation is also equally real and a bitter fact even today. As a war-like movement, it requires massive preparation in all levels to mitigate the perilous impact on vulnerable classes. These hapless and stranded realities of rural India do not usually find a place in the media and remains poorly attended in public discourse.
Moreover, there is ‘so far’ no concrete vision of how to assist economically backward people in villages and slum dwellers in cities. There are announcements by the number of state governments such as Punjab, Delhi, etc. for providing certain financial facilities to economically disadvantaged groups.
However, it should be conceptualized in a more coherent form, for example, will those migrant labour be enabled to avail the local administrative assistances who have returned home from cities ahead of the withdrawing bus and train services?
In contrast, developed countries’ support for those impacted by lockdown is much more comprehensive and planned ways. Apart from supplying medicines and equipment, and opening temporary hospital and quarantine centres, it is very essential for the Indian government to ensure subsistence wages of manual workers and supplies of indispensable commodities to the neediest in cities as well as villages for as long as containment and crisis last.
Despite the catastrophic financial situation and pathogenic ramification of the country, the government galvanizes in directing planned expenses on a new Parliament building. Currently, what is needed for government is to develop an immediate communication and coordination strategies from the central level to the state to the district to the village in order to monitor and ensure that not a single person dies of hunger rather than looking to invest a huge amount of country’s money to redevelop a new parliament.
Barring states like Kerala, Delhi, and UP most other state governments continue to be a mute spectator. Take, for example, states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh where nearly 60 per cent poor reside and they should take an urgent effective call to address scramble and creeping situation of the people by providing some basic subsistence to uphold millions.
(The author is a Research Scholar at Birla Institute of Technology and Social Science, Pilani)