Twenty one days into the total lock down in India, more and more of the gaps and faults are beginning to show through, increasing the risk of managing the lock down to control the speed of the spread of the Corona virus one hand, finding ways to ease up the shut down without rolling it back to establish a new normal, on the other.
Patience and the capacity to bear with the challenges of the lock down are beginning to fray, and the spectre of a manmade disaster is beginning to haunt India. It is a toss up which would be worse; hunger or the disease, as the thousands who headed to a railway station on April 14 reckoned as they were turned back by the Mumbai police, who used tear gas to contain the agitated migrants breaking out of isolation shelters.
Across the country, more and more reports of police chasing migrants escaping isolation camps are beginning to come in, evidence is emerging that the challenge of managing the lock down is more complicated than anodyne directions from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stay home and stay safe.
Health experts across the world have advised that hand washing and social distancing are the two best strategies for controlling the spread of COVID 19. Instead of facing the reality that in India people who cannot afford food if their earnings are shut down cannot afford to buy soap, the entire political establishment, from Narendra Modi at the top to chief ministers of the states of the federal union have parroted the impossible advisory. Some 98 per cent of Indians consume in normal times, on average 460 grams of soap, or four a half regular tablets of it. How this is skewed in favour of the better off is easily understood.
To wash hands, India needs clean water. It has water, but not all of it is clean. Women who trek miles to collect water in normal times are not going to walk the extra trips required for simply hand washing. They have neither the time, the energy nor the money to buy soap.
Instead of thinking through plans that could work and make it safer for about 100 million citizens, that is the total population minus the 40 million plus middle class and rich in pandemic times, the Narendra Modi government has led by mouthing measures that are generic in nature and unreal in India.
India’s habitual failure to deliver in full and on time, well conceived plans and schemes for alleviating poverty, direct cash transfers to target populations was abysmal and a nuisance in Before Corona era. One telling consequence of India’s usual system combined with low incomes is that almost 46 per cent of under five children suffer from stunting, wasting and severe malnutrition. Its adolescent, especially girls are underweight. Millions of adults are victims of chronic energy deficiency.
In pandemic times, when an estimated 400 million workers in the unorganised sector have no work, no money and insufficient food in isolation camps and in the villages, India is on the brink of worsening the crisis triggered by COVID 19. It has very little time and room to improve its delivery systems because the risk of violence is growing daily.