Rasheeda Bhagat

We’ve done well in battling spread of Covid

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on April 07, 2020 Published on April 07, 2020

The Centre and most States have been proactive. However, it was shocking to see the treatment meted out to migrant workers

Apart from reflecting on the idiotic and dangerous meet of the Tabligi Jamat meet in Nizamuddin, which has not only put the larger Indian community to the risk of Covid-19 infection but given fresh fodder to the hate brigade to vilify the entire Muslim community, the lockdown period has flooded the mind with a riot of thoughts.

While the taali-thali-candle-torch phenomenon might be needed for a huge mass of locked-in populace, the heart and the mind goes out to the tens of lakhs of people, particularly migrant workers, who were left high and dry by the government’s six hour notice to get back to their homes.

Under home quarantine myself till April 17, as I returned from Mexico city via Dubai on an Emirates flight on March 18, I have never felt luckier… to be able to take long morning walks on the terrace of my house; to watch from there the small pomegranate tree burst into a flowering frenzy, to see the many parrots flying past; and, above all, to find the karuveppilai (curry leaves) plant bloom like never before.

Incredible generosity

But we continue to read and watch horror stories of our poor and marginalised folk. Forget Zomato and Swiggy, or amazon.in and bigbasket.com, they have no money to buy dhal, rice or even atta from the local kirana shop. The video of of a Haryanvi who had to walk 8 km to get food from a Gurudwara was distressing.

Not even a minuscule percentage of stories had a happy ending such as that of seven engineering graduates who made the gruelling 1,200-km journey from Nanded in Maharashtra, to their homes in Tamil Nadu. After walking for 500 km and hitch-hiking for days, a good Samaritan in Tiruchi got a police pass to drop them home in Tiruvarur. They shared stories of incredible kindness from villagers who gave them food and water. Those who have less, share the most. Period.

Sprayed with disinfectants

But the bulk of the migrants set adrift by the sudden lockdown were not so lucky. Most of them starved, begged for food, and there were deaths due to fatigue and starvation. Other large groups, such as the one in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, were sprayed upon with disinfectants like pests. Even in Kerala, which has shown such sound common sense in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to its Health Minister KK Shailaja and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, migrants returning home were “disinfected” with salt water sprays.

Another Chief Minister who has grown into his new role at a testing time like this is Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray. Through a series of tweets and video messages he has been keeping the citizens informed, and even inspired. In one tweet he said that a “small virus” was now defying the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji, but the land of “the braves, warriors and saints” would unite, “put up a fight and win.”

But apart from leaving our poor labourers high and dry without giving them sufficient notice or transport to return home, and gimmicks such as the taali-thali tamasha and lighting of candles, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done a commendable job in containing the spread of Covid-19.

Western scientists and media have predicted that this virus will “rip” through India; well, so far, it hasn’t. Around 4,100 cases in a country of 1.3 billion is an incredible story of containing this pandemic. The caveat of course is that this may not be the real number because we are not testing enough. But there isn’t even anecdotal evidence of community spread except for some puzzling cases. Even if we multiply this figure by 10, and take into consideration that the infections will take a week or two more to peak, India can be proud of its fight against Covid-19.

But both our government and civil society need to do more for our poor and marginalised millions. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has said the government has to prioritise the poor, called this the “biggest emergency” after the Partition and said, “India reforms only in crisis. Hopefully, this otherwise unmitigated tragedy will help us see how weakened we have become as a society, and will focus our politics on the critical economic and healthcare reforms we sorely need.”Wise words there. We need to mend our fractured society too.

Published on April 07, 2020

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