The country’s airports are busy rehearsing their protocols for processing passengers, now that domestic air connectivity has opened. Elaborate arrangements and plans are being communicated. I am booked on a flight tomorrow to head out to my hometown. I am eager to see the farms in this peak summer. To wait for the monsoon rains to arrive is one of the extraordinary experiences that one lives in the countryside. Everything after that is profuse and spontaneous – from sowing to germination of seeds and pace of life to level of water in reservoirs.
Before that the summer heat has to be endured. The heat wave has intensified in most of the northern states. It is hard to imagine the condition of workers who are traveling to their hometowns in trains. In a webinar on labour conditions during covid crisis, I remember Jan Breman saying, “He is a tramp! The worker.” He meant that the workers in India have been footloose and have followed work wherever it is available. He observed that when people come back home (to their hometowns), chances are they have returned penniless and have brought no savings given the conditions in which they had to leave. It will be a struggle to keep the household afloat. We should follow up by finding out what happens now. What happens after they have returned home?
In the next wave of covid panic in India, we will see an altered response – people toughening themselves to dare the pandemic. The cities have already become impatient with staying away from work and without income. The covid panic is about increasing infection numbers in the country. The effect of the pandemic is a virgin territory in the modern times. We have not modelled such situations or ran simulations to know what happens to the labour markets and life outcomes of the labour force when shocks like a pandemic occur. Life outcomes of Indians in this pandemic is facing a serious threat of worsening.
Perhaps, as we exit the lockdowns and steel ourselves to live with the virus and yet go about our daily life, the realisation of how hard hitting this will be is setting in.