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

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

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.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Russia, China to call the shots in Middle East, as Muslim nations turn into house of cards

By Haider Abbas* Only a naive would buy that the ‘situation of ceasefire’ between the State of Israel and Hamas would continue, as if the foiled attempt to demolish Al Aqsa this time, is not be repeated, if not in any near future then in sometime to come. Israel already has spurned the ‘ceasefire’ by storming Al Aqsa after the Friday prayers on May 21.

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.