Tryst with a tragedy
As expected, Lock Down has been extended and we have entered in the fourth phase with an all time high count of new cases and crumbling medical infrastructure. Cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad are still prominent members of RED ZONE indicating difficult times ahead not only in terms of direct effects of the pandemic but also in terms of indirect ones, i.e, loss of employment and forced exodus of labourers, downward movement of economic indicators etc. The much hyped relief package could not create any kind of enthusiasm even in the pro-establishment Media and social media warriors, leave alone the market and labourers. It’s difficult to ascertain who is more clueless : Our governments or the poor immigrants who have decided to return their villages on foot.
This pandemic has laid bare open a large human conglomeration which was invisible till now : the urban poor. When the country was locked down they didn’t came to planner’s mind due to their sheer invisibility. Middle class was expected to behave like a good boy utilizing this extended holiday to spend quality time with family trying new recipes, browsing Netflix and banging thalis and they responded accordingly. Rural India in its own kind of self dependence survived through it, But the huge urban poor masses bore the real burnt with loss of employment and no savings to bank upon. It seems that most of the policy makers were not even aware that a large number of workers don’t maintain a working kitchen and rely on cheep roadside dhabas while rest of them survive on their meager daily/ weekly or monthly wages coming either from business establishments and manufacturing units or households. Once they got confined to their tiny houses and their employers cleared/refused to clear their dues with no further promise, panic was imminent. Absence of trains and buses added to it.
That was the time when governments should have intervened. A promise of two square meal and fulfillment of minimum needs was all that required. The half-hearted Khichdi was in stark contrast to what was being planted in mainstream media as humanitarian help. A large number of social organisations and individuals stepped in and did great service by providing everything they could. But governments couldn’t utilize this and let the panic grip those ‘invisible’ colonies which resulted a kind of mass exodus of urban poor from almost every metro in the country. Thousands of kilometres, lack of transport facilities and harsh attitude of police couldn’t deter them : threat of famishment was cruelest of all. India has witnessed such exodus only during partition. This time it’s a new kind of division between haves and have-nots. Those who can survive lock down and those who can’t. Due to lack of any support and fear of a bleak future kind of mass hysteria has gripped the urban poor and they are ready to pay any price for that, even their lives.
This neglect is giving way to a chaos. Closure of state boundary is like creating borders within country, recent scenes of scuffle between state police are very first in my memory. There can be only two solutions in the present scenario, either make arrangements for their return or provide food and shelter at their respective cities.
Unfortunately the focus of our governments is on headline management. Tussle between states and Center, ugly debates of twitter and lack of any reliable policy on urban poor indicate a worse future. The case of UP where CM is not allowing buses arranged by Congress is a representative example of kind of politics being played. Such steps and forced stopping is bound to enhance the panic further and this may result in an endless series of chaos.
And what about the pandemic? All the theories of 24 hour or ‘heat of may’ has apparently failed and disappeared . Curves are refusing to flatten. The issue has refused to hide behind the shadows of communal gimmicks. No vaccine is in picture and no one expect one in near future. Holiday has turned into nightmare and even middle class is heading towards an uncertain future with pay cuts and retrenchments. Unending long ques are potential threat of a further spread of virus in rural and semi rural areas which may trigger a major tragedy given pathetic state of medical infrastructure in the rural India. The pandemic has wore many faces in our country and none of them is less monstrous.
The tunnel is dark and long. The light at the end is, at best, invisible.