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7 PM |A pandemic in an unequal India| 1st April 2020

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Context: Inequality amid Coronavirus pandemic.

On March 24, 2020, the Indian government announced a three-week nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. As a result, thousands of migrant workers left India’s major cities since the government’s lockdown designed to prevent a local epidemic of novel coronavirus left them without jobs or pay.

This brings us to the questions of inequality prevalent in India and impact of Coronavirus pandemic. In this article, we will explain the below:

  • What is inequality?
  • What are preventive measures against Coronavirus and how the poor people in India face difficulties in following the preventive measures?
  • What is the capacity of India’s health system?
  • What measures did government took for poors?
  • What can be done?
  • Conclusion

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What is inequality?

  • The United Nations describes inequality as “the state of not being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities”.
  • Inequality can be broadly classified in to:
    • Economic inequality:Economic inequality is the unequal distribution of income and opportunity between individuals or different groups in society.
    • Social inequality:It occurs when resources in a given society are distributed unevenly based on norms of a society that creates specific patterns along lines of socially defined categories e.g. religion, kinship, prestige, race, caste, ethnicity, gender etc. have different access to resources of power, prestige and wealth depending on the norms of a society.
  • Both these categories are deeply intertwined and inequality of one type affects the inequality in another e.g. Social Inequality due to gender have large impact on income of women. In patriarchal societies large gender wage gap tends to exist.

What are preventive measures against Coronavirus and how the poor people in India face difficulties in following the preventive measures?

  • Washing hands: Theres is pre-requisite of washing hands with soap and water regularly and more oftenly. However, millions of people in India still do not have access to tap water or a regular water supply. It becomes impossible for poor people to afford extra water through water tankers to maintain the hygenic conditions.
  • Social-Distancing: Social distancing helps in breaking the chain of the spread of COVID-19. However, it is not feasible for large extended families who crowd into narrow single rooms in slums and working-class tenements.
  • Avoid mass gatherings and crowded places: Government requested corporates to provide facilities to ‘work from home’. However, government forgot the millions of informal workers and destitute people who would have no work if they stayed home, many of them circular migrants, which is estimated at 100 million.
  • A total lockdown: Though a lockdown was the need of hour but a total lockdown was possible only for the rich and the middle class with assured incomes during the period, homes with spaces for distancing, health insurance and running water supply.

What is the capacity of India’s health system?

  • While the Indian government barely taxes its wealthiest citizens, its spending on public healthcare ranks among the lowest in the world. In the place of a well-funded health service, it has promoted an increasingly powerful commercial health sector.
  • As a result, decent healthcare is a luxury only available to those who have the money to pay for it. While the country is a top destination for medical tourism, the poorest Indian states have infant mortality rates higher than those in sub-Saharan Africa. India accounts for 17% of global maternal deaths, and 21% of deaths among children below five years.
  • A Jan Swasthya Abhiyan estimate is that a district hospital serving a population of two million may have to serve 20,000 patients, but they are deprived of the beds, personnel and resources to do this.

What measures did government took for poors?

  • The Union government has announced a package, including additional 5 kg grain a month for the next three months under the PDS.
  • Also, ₹500 per month for the next three months for women holding Jan-Dhan Yojana accounts.
  • Three months’ pension in advance to nearly three crore widows, senior citizens and the differently-abled
  • The govenrment increased ₹2,000 for MGNREGA workers.

However, these are not enough for the survival of a family. Rs. 500 is just about 2 days of a months’ salary.  The migrants saw the future dark and thus left the cities to reach to their native villages.

What can be done?

  • For two months, every household in the informal economy, rural and urban, should be given the equivalent of 25 days’ minimum wages a month until the lockdown continues.
  • There should be free water tankers supplying water in slum shanties throughout the working days.
  • Governments must double PDS entitlements, which includes protein-rich pulses, and distribute these free at doorsteps.
  • In addition, for homeless children and adults, and single migrants, it is urgent to supply cooked food to all who seek it, and to deliver packed food to the aged and the disabled in their homes using the services of community youth volunteers.
  • India must immediately commit 3% of its GDP for public spending on health services, with the focus on free and universal primary and secondary health care.

Conclusion:

Most of the official strategies place the responsibility on the citizen, rather than the state, to fight the pandemic. Though the government should have been already prepared with health infrastructure of testing and treating before virus entered India. But in such a crisis which is not seen after World War II, whole humanity needs to stand up together and stronger to break the chain of the spread of COVID-19.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-pandemic-in-an-unequal-india/article31221919.ece

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