Skip to main content

Modi 'transforming' Covid into pandemic of fear, curtailing citizens’ right to dissent

By Pragya Ranjan*
In April Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy on Covid, singled out India’s coronavirus response for praise, saying ‘Indians know how to do it’, after the country decisively locked down the entire country to prevent the disease from spreading. What we see in India today tells a very different story. 
As cases have continued to rise, the most vulnerable in India have been hit hardest, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister, Narenda Modi, has used the shutdown as a way to suppress his critics and make dramatic changes to the Indian state. 
Modi surprised the entire country on 24 March. At 8 pm, he announced on a government owned news channel that a nationwide lockdown would be enforced from midnight. All workplaces, schools, shops and hotels were shut down. India had one of the harshest lockdowns in the world in March, according to Oxford University’s Stringency Index.
The government did not consider the 88 million people living in extreme poverty when it locked down. After the measures were announced, the homeless and beggars had only four hours to find shelter, and rural migrants were forced to flee to their homes thousands of miles away as any prospect of work disappeared. These migrant workers ended up travelling thousands of miles back to their villages without any money or medical supplies.
Men, women, the elderly, and the pregnant walked barefoot, carrying their small children and heavy luggage on their backs and heads. Some only reached their destination after tolerating the brutality of the police, who used violence to enforce the coronavirus restrictions.
Immediately after the lockdown, most hospitals stopped taking non-Covid patients and were forced by the government to close their out-patient departments and cancel elective surgeries. Pregnant women in labour were denied admission. Meanwhile, the government’s closure of factories and workplaces led to the loss of livelihoods of another million workers, who are struggling to survive.
Many have died due to lack of medical care and hundreds have committed suicide. In a normal year, 27 per cent of the people who die in India will have received no medical attention. That number will be far greater in 2020, thanks to the lockdown measures.
Modi’s administration has dangerously ignored the scientific advice during the pandemic. According to leading Indian professional health associations, the government has failed to consult the country’s epidemiologists and experts and relied on the technical advice of the clinical establishment and bureaucrats. As a result, India has introduced ‘ill-planned, hasty lockdowns’ even though the pandemic has ‘not been as fearsome as projec­ted’.
Even the Indian health ministry's own epidemiologists and health teams have reportedly been side-lined by the government. Annoyed with this, an anonymous epidemiologist working on the PM’s Covid-19 task force has told a leading Indian magazine that ‘there is no doubt in my mind that the lockdown has failed due to the adoption of unscientific methods.’
Modi’s approach to the pandemic can be summed up by the measures taken in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya. The region is one of the areas least affected by Covid in India, with just 44 confirmed cases and only one death. On June 2, the local health department declared that all of its citizens would be classed as asymptomatic carriers of Covid ‘by default’. The government claims the best way to prevent community transmission is through a ‘behavioural change model’. In reality, this has hampered the civil rights of its citizens.
On August 7, a 15 year old returned to her village from Shillong, the state’s capital. A village secretary instructed her family to temporarily leave and stay in the nearby jungle. The entire family including a 5-month-old baby had to leave the village and spend 9 days in the jungle. 
Meghalaya Health Commissioner and Secretary Sampth Kumar said, “First thing we must remember is that behavioural change does not happen through scaring people.” But ironically declaring every person as an asymptomatic carrier creates nothing but panic.
Often it appears that Modi and his BJP party are more interested in creating a climate of fear in India than actually fighting the disease. The government has used the virus as a tool to suspend civil liberties and punish those who oppose Modi’s dream of making India a Hindu nation.
“To get a disease is not a crime but to hide it, definitely is”, said the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityananth, in March. Adityananth, who belongs to the BJP, blamed Muslims for the spread of the disease after they attended a religious event in Delhi a day before religious gatherings were banned in the capital. 
Registered cases against intellectuals who oppose making of Hindu nation were reopened; they were harassed on pretext of interrogation
Most news channels joined him in blaming Muslims for the spread of the virus across the entire country. By comparison, relatively little attention was paid when the Chief Minister himself took part in a ceremony to move a Ram idol to a new shrine in the city of Ayodhya, after a complete lockdown was imposed. 
In December a citizenship bill was passed by Modi which gave citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The bill has been criticised by Muslims and supporters of secularism, who believe it is a way to marginalise Muslims in certain states. But due to Covid-19 restrictions, people are not able to protest the changes. Modi has used the lockdown to crush his ideological opponents and police are arresting those who protested the bill before the lockdown began, on charges of sedition and terrorism.
It’s not just Muslims who are being targeted. The government has used the pandemic to silence intellectuals, activists and writers who have spoken out against the Prime Minister. In August, two Delhi University professors and critics of the government, Hany Babu and Anand Teltumbde, were arrested for their alleged involvement in violent protests. 
The police have drawn up elaborate conspiracy theories to curtail their right to dissent, and they have been accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. No evidence has been provided for these claims.
Not only this, the registered cases against many intellectuals who oppose the making of a Hindu nation were reopened and they were harassed on the pretext of interrogation by police. These include the names of a tribal writer hailing from Jharkhand, Vasavi Kiro, and a Dalit writer who was also the former Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police, SR Darapuri.
Kiro was charged years ago for organising a political demonstration, while Darapuri was accused of leading the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest in Uttar Pradesh. The Uttar Pradesh Government has threatened Darapuri to promptly compensate for the loss of government property during anti CAA protest, otherwise his private property would be confiscated.
Meanwhile, 55 journalists have been charged by police since the beginning of the lockdown, after criticising the government’s coronavirus response.
For some people, exercising their freedom of speech has become more dangerous than the virus itself in India. The real result of the pandemic measures enacted by Modi has been the curtailment of citizens’ right to dissent and the transformation of Covid into a pandemic of fear.
---
*Young critic and a story writer

Comments

TRENDING

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?

Modi govt 'implementing' IMF-envisaged corporate takeover of Indian agriculture

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* The surge of wealth of Indian billionaires and the Modi-led BJP government’s onslaught on poor, marginalised and farmers continue to grow simultaneously as masses face annihilating pandemic of coronavirus. There is 90 % rise of Indian billionaire’s wealth over last one decade. It is not accidental.

A new fad in India, coding-for-toddlers culture needs to be 'nipped' in the bud

By Aditya Pandey* We are all aware of the dire consequences of subjecting young kids to intense academic pressure from an early age. In India, we have coaching institutes like FIITJEE and Resonance offering programmes for 6th standard kids to prepare them for “NTSE, IJSO, PRMO and other Olympiads”. The duration of these programmes is around 175 hours – hours that could've been spent playing games and making friends instead.

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.

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

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.

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).