When the lockdown was imposed, Jyoti Kumari saw an uncertain future in front of her. Her life stopped as her father was disabled and working somewhere else. Due to lockdown, transport networks were fully shut off. So to bring her to her disabled father, she bought a cycle with the leftover money. A small figure of Jyoti cycling with her father astonished everyone.
She managed to cycle safely to her home. But many were not so lucky. Some lost their lives on the railway track (Maharashtra). Some women even faced vulnerable situations while walking miles unescorted.
At the time when the lockdown was imposed, the number of cases was counted but the social and economic realities it was forced to witness weren’t imagined. We knew there are many unfortunate Jyoties toiling very hard in the cities. But somehow, we wanted to close our eyes. While traveling on the train, many of us would put off the curtain when scenes are good. But when scenery like slums appears, we would like to put back the curtain. Putting back the curtain doesn’t extinguish reality.
But this covid 19 pandemic forced us to see the socio-economic reality.
The reality has continued to haunt the pandemic. The poor class hardly have savings of a month or two. They lost all the savings during the pandemic time. There is a large section that lives just below the poverty line. Any economic vulnerability pushes them below the poverty line.
As per the data, a pandemic would add 75 million more people into poverty in India. No work due to complete lockdown led to no wages which led to the crisis of nutrition and health as well.
The health system got overburdened and overstretched affecting vulnerable sections most. Black marketing of medicines and beds started. While the poor section obviously couldn’t afford such black marketing prices, the unethical practices even cost the savings of well off section. Many middle-class people mortgaged their jewelry and put out their savings to get ventilator bed.
Unfortunate ones lost their loved ones as well as their savings. With no jobs, no money lost savings, the home became the chamber of tension. The tension led to a sharp increase in the rise of mental health issues.
However, the tension was not gender-neutral. Along with the health pandemic, the pandemic of domestic violence was going on. There is an increase of 2.5 times in complaints of domestic violence, as per the report of National Commission for Women (NCW).
The existing patriarchal mindset meant adverse consequences for women. Patriarchy cuts across class, caste, and religion. Women were expected to meet the demand of home-keeping along with work from home. Cases of marital rape went up with this led to the additional concern of unwanted pregnancy.
The problem was more troublesome among uneducated women who have less control over their reproductive rights. Due to the pandemic, we witnessed an increase in child marriage. A report has been published by the UNICEF on the impact of Covid-19 on child marriages states that India is among the five countries that account for half of the child marriages in the world. This pandemic put off the curtains and showed us the social-economic changes.
We witnessed the social cleavage of communalism as well. The gathering of JAMAAT was surely undesirable, but the incident was stereotyped. TV Channels and Social Media aggravated communal stigmatization. The phenomenon was witnessed not only in India but abroad as well. Minorities in other countries were also targeted as a spreader of the virus. In Pakistan, Ahmadis were seen as a spreader of the virus. Racial and Xenophobia related incidents shot up in the west too. The socio-economic tensions like these required state to step in.
As Chanakya said in his Arthashastra, when there is no state , there is MATASYA- NYAYA. The smaller fish gets eaten by a bigger one. So the state has the responsibility and solemn duty to protect the vulnerable and downtrodden. To reduce socio-economic inequalities as much as possible, the government in India as well as abroad took many steps like Covid-19 special relief packages.
In India to give economic relief, “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana” was launched. Doubling of PDS ration, increased in MNREGA wage, free LPG cylinders, and so on. Female Jan Dhan account holders to get 500 every month. This is a positive step to provide sum, however small in hands of women. RBI infused liquidity in the Market and terms of loan repayment also relaxed. It was the health sector that proved to be a Himalayan challenge.
The date was 20th March when our Prime Minister addressed the nation about the Janta curfew on 22nd March. However, the Covid kept growing and growing, and coming in waves like 1st wave, 2nd wave, and 3rd wave. In between this, India launched the world’s biggest vaccination program.
People at the bottom end of the spectrum couldn’t afford the vaccine. Hence vaccination was made inclusive and kept free for all. We also went through some tough situations like a shortage of oxygen. Efforts were made to airlift from other nations like Singapore, Russia, etc.
We went through perhaps a big unfortunate crisis. But it also had one good effect. Tv media showed us the non-existence of health infrastructure in the rural area, poverty, domestic violence-like cases.
How do poor folks have high out-of-pocket expenditure on medicines? How much is “Jan Arogya Ausadhi Kendra” inclusive to all?
The scaling of health infrastructure mainly in rural areas is the need of the hour, which may prove beneficial in the longer run. But for a temporary period, there is a need for prompt intervention in the field of economy, health, and so on; also, intervention in some social changes in early marriage, caste, religion, etc.
The case of patriarchy and domestic violence need the active involvement of civil society and women’s organizations. The cases must be dealt with by law. But during a pandemic, with stretched bureaucracy and judiciary functioning with less workforce, need of an immediate short-term solutions is required.
Some NGOs helped in setting up cyber café like places where women continued their work from home. This ensured the financial as well as social security of women. There is also a need for intervention for inclusive internet to all, as a pandemic hampers the education of a large section of rural children.
However, this pandemic provides a chance to live together with close ones. Many males started sharing housekeeping work. Living at home, they realized the invisible labor being done by women. Many organizations and volunteers worked to increase tolerance in society. In someplaces, Muslim people gave the last rite to Hindus. These incidents positively impact society.
A country and society can only progress in an atmosphere of tolerance. The need during the pandemic is to come together and address the needs of weaker sections. Good samaritans provided helping hands to migrants with food, resting house. Some employers also helped their employees in pandemics like Tata and Sons, Reliance.
An actor like Sonu Sood helped a large number of migrants to reach their homes along with food. Various temples and Gurudwara provided food to needy ones. Despite such efforts, the pandemic has created a large long gap. Pandemic has led to a rise in inequality. Now everything is changed. Hence some big steps need to be explored.
Some innovative steps like universal basic income may be tested on a pilot basis. The covid release package provided by India was small as compared to that of developed countries. It is a time to provide distributive justice. The Directive Principles of State Policy should be operationalized.
The cooperative and social networks in the village are strong. India has formed a new ministry “Ministry of Co-operation”. Co-operatives require the active strengthening of local governance and empowerment. The prosperity of the nation and the world is connected. India did a commendable job by providing hydrochloroquinine to other countries during a pandemic and also providing vaccines to countries that are weak in socio-economic terms through the “VACCINE MAITRI PROGRAM”.
The New York times lauded our girl Jyoti Kumari as a “lion-hearted girl—inspiring action”. We are also inspired by her feet of action and courage. Jyoti Kumari’s action is teaching us values, love, etc. which is the need of the hour to avoid communal tension in the society. However, the government should take a lesson that such incidents of riding a bicycle over 100km shouldn’t be repeated. Society must ensure basic social-economic equality for all.
The prosperity of society lies in the happiness of all –
“Sarve bhavantu sukhinah,
Sarve Santu Niramyah”