Skip to main content

Impact of COVID-19 in India, where stigma, public humiliation, lynching are 'endemic'

Notice put up outside an Ahmedabad house (left): Alert! Quarantine Area 
By Battini Rao*
India is passing through the second stage of the most serious health crisis in its recent history. How we respond to it as a society is crucial to mitigating the effect of COVID 19 virus on our individual health. Democracy is ultimately a system of social relationships, of everyone with everybody else that respects the twin principles of equality and individual autonomy, so that everyone becomes responsible to everyone else without the use of threat, fear, and social power.
If there are many characteristics of our society and government which make us undemocratic, this crisis can also be an opportunity to strengthen our democracy.
India has a very unequal medical delivery system. While the prosperous Indians can get as good health services in private hospitals and clinics as available anywhere in the world, vast swathes of rural India are bereft of any public health services.
Areas of urban poverty are also similarly deprived. Indian government takes care of only 27% of health expenditure, spending only 1% of GDP on health. In China government takes care of more than 56% of the health expenditure. In many other countries public expenditure on health is more than 80%, which ensures everyone gets required health care, rather than only those who can afford.
Given the state of affairs of public health system in the country, poor and rural Indians are likely to be the primary sufferers of acute health crisis from corona virus. It is essential that state machinery resolves to provide equal quality care to every Indian, and all available health resources are pooled in and distributed according to the requirement of individual sufferers, rather than on the basis of how much they can pay.
Resources of private hospitals too must be diverted to meet the pandemic and opened to every Indian free of cost. Government of India has advertised a separate test price of Rs 4,500 for private hospitals. This will only mean that people who can afford this price will get tested, poor will be left to languish in stressed public health system.
Instead of this discriminatory practice, widespread testing at zero price should be started urgently. This is how pandemic has been contained in China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
Indian state authorities have historically been more intent upon imposing their power on people, rather than taking care of their own responsibilities. Government of India has lost precious three months window available for preparing for the impeding crisis. Even basic masks, and personal protective equipment are not available to our nurses and doctors. ICU beds and ventilators are going to be in short supply. 
Only the Odisha government of all Indian states has issued orders that the identity of coronavirus sufferers cannot be revealed
In the national address announcing three week countrywide lockdown, Prime Minister Modi did not mention that essentials of everyday life will remain available, which led to an unnecessary panic. It is obvious that daily wagers, contract workers, and people working in the informal sector are going to be the worst economic sufferers of the lockdown.
State plans for how they are going to be compensated should have been in place before the lockdown was announced. Like during demonetisation the PM thinks that his grandstanding will take care of problems people are going to face. Before stopping bus and train services the government should have ensured that millions of migrant workers, who need to be with their families, safely reach their native places. 
What kind of quarantine a working family of five living in a dingy room in a slum can afford? State needs to immediately open places for public quarantine in all empty public buildings like schools, colleges, stadiums and even shopping malls.
Indian state authorities need to understand that public lockdown under an extended health emergency like coronavirus must be fundamentally different from a curfew imposed after a riot, when the assumption is that anyone on street is a potential trouble maker. The Telangana chief minister is already threatening shoot at site orders to make people stay indoors.
Ministers, officials and prosperous people may have enough supplies at home to last them three weeks. How can ordinary people stay indoors for that long? While enforcing the lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese government had ensured an elaborate delivery system employing thousands to provide essentials to people at home. It seems Indian state authorities are more focussed on forcing people indoors, rather than providing them services so that they can stay indoors.
Social stigma, public humiliation and even lynching are endemic to our society. If anything, the ideological attacks of the ruling dispensation on minorities, oppressed castes, and the so-called ‘anti-nationals’ generally have heightened these tendencies. There is an acute danger that patients suffering from coronavirus, their families and friends, and hospital and other staff taking care of them, may end up facing ostricization.
There is acute danger that patients suffering from coronavirus, their families and friends may end up facing ostricization
There are already some cases of nurses being asked to vacate by their landlords. Even airline staff that brought back Indians from countries infected with the virus have faced problems in their housing societies. Since in popular media China is presented as responsible for the pandemic, people of North-East living in other parts of India have faced public humiliation.
Certain steps of our governments, like physically stamping people ordered to remain in quarantine, or putting public notices outside houses of such people, further encourage such behaviour. The identities of coronavirus victims have been revealed to media in many places. 
These steps not only violate the right to privacy of people suspected of having the virus, but also their right to personal safety and dignity. Only the Odisha government has issued orders that the identity of coronavirus sufferers cannot be revealed. Other governments should also issue similar orders.
Given the nature of coronavirus, probably more than half of Indians are going to infected by it in coming months. Only the most vulnerable, namely little children and the elderly in already weak health, will require hospitalisation and critical medical care. It is necessary that, rather than panicking and stigmatising victims of this virus, we as a society provide all necessary care, medical, psychological, and economic, to any person who is going to suffer.
The Indian state must ensure:
  1. Equal and quality medical services to every Indian suffering form the coronavirus. In particular, no double streams of medical services, one comfortably curative in private hospitals for the rich, and the other understaffed and undersupplied stream for the poor in government hospitals, be allowed to continue. All medical resources available in the country should be distributed only on the basis of need, rather than wealth and status.
  2. Measures to financially compensate people working in the informal sector of the economy should be announced and enforced immediately. 
  3. Enough places of public quarantine are made available to the poor living in crowded conditions. 
  4. Doctors, nurses, and safai karamcharis attending to victims of coronavirus are provided protective gear immediately.
  5. Elaborate systems of pubic delivery of essentials at door-step are made. 
People of India should refrain from and confront any stigmatisation of sufferers of coronavirus and their families. Overcoming the crisis would require significant voluntary effort from all Indians in providing help and care to the needy. Only that will deepen our democracy.
---
*Convenor, People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS), Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).