The morning began with Roald Dahl’s short story ‘Galloping Foxley’. I delayed picking up on news. It has a flooding effect. Photos and videos from the first day of shutdown across India are disturbing. The country has normalized violence and brutality by the police. There are reports of migrant workers who were stranded in New Delhi due to transport shutdowns walking to their hometowns several hundred kilometers away. It seems as though the poor will pay the price to keep the rest of us safe from the infection. In a country like India, it isn’t hard to ascertain the impact of such drastic lockdowns on the poor. Yet, to have done this without making alternative arrangements appears to be a tacit approval to the idea that some lives are more important than the others.
Jean Dreze draws attention to the perils of an all-out lockdown and its impact on the poor. He observes –
There is a critical difference, in this respect, between India and affluent countries with a good social security system. The average household in, say, Canada or Italy can take a lockdown in its stride (for some time at least), but the staying power of the Indian poor is virtually nil.
While news about people out of work and in dire need pours in from across the country, the Finance Minister went live to announce a relief package for vulnerable and affected groups – an insurance cover for frontline workers in the Covid-19 emergency response and a combination of free foodgrains and direct cash transfer to targeted groups. This is certainly a useful attempt at providing social security by the government. In a system that offers negligible safety, these moves are a good start.
On a different note, this emergency brings forth all that India is – a system forever catching up, a large bureaucratic mess and often completely confused. Bengaluru’s police department is grappling with the problem of issuing duty passes to all those who are allowed to venture out during the lockdown. These are people involved in essential services. However, the process to get those duty passes is beyond reason – designated police stations where applicants will have to line up with their documents and get a pass issued! Soon enough, there were hundreds of people queuing up at various police stations.
At work, a pay cut is confirmed. We spent two days re-assessing, restructuring the work plan for the next quarter. I am not sure if these adverse events can be planned against. Their odds of happening seem less in comparison to the forgone lifestyle that doesn’t shore up for hard hits as Covid – 19 triggered slowdown. The days are now filled with reading lots of news,opinion pieces on various aspects of Covid -19 response across the world, discussions on economy and on looking at various trackers for infections and deaths due to coronavirus.
These days are a complete immersion in the issue of the day – pandemic. There is hardly anything else that gets attention besides this. Not even the lovely photographs of ripening wheat in our farm that awaits harvest in a few days.