Since mid-April, India has been in the grip of the second wave of the coronavirus. A variant which is more virulent, more infectious and which overwhelms the system. Mumbai was the first of the major cities to be brought to its knees by this wave. But, the second wave didn’t start in April, it started towards the end of March, and policymakers missed all the signs. In the third week of March, the complex where I live in Pune was hit – six cases, as we went into containment mode. The youngest were affected – most of them asymptomatic. The news had yet to reach social media or mainstream media. The tale of both was commended – we had won the war on Covid – but it was present in our personal and professional groups.
As India played Holi, organized political rallies, and asked thousands of people to take a sacred dip in Kumbh – the narrative changed so that we were back to normal. Those of us asking questions were accused of being death row inmates and Hinduphobes – by those who did not realize that the people most exposed to the coronavirus during these mass events were Hindus. But unlike the first wave, which mainly affected low-income areas, the second wave so far has mostly hit the haves. The smartphone audience. Those with access to social and digital media. Those who could make their calls on Twitter and be heard.
Case in non-slums
In Mumbai, for example, 90% of infections occurred in non-slum areas. The better-off, the middle class and the upper middle class were the most affected. And, unlike last time around, we all paid attention – because we got to hear about it through social media channels, WhatsApp groups and more. And then the horror started. The health care system was overwhelmed. There were no beds available. And there was a shortage of oxygen and life-saving drugs. As cities like Mumbai and Pune began to address this issue with local, state and citizen initiatives, a city-state like Delhi has collapsed. The people of Delhi were caught between a rock and a hard place as their CM Arvind Kejriwal did nothing as the city began to gasp.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen someone suffer in the hospital. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost anyone. And finally, while doctors, healthcare workers and frontline workers have worked valiantly to save lives, they have not been defeated so much by Covid -19 as by the lack of political will to work together to resolve problems – like how to get oxygen to hospitals. And in this, Kejriwal must shoulder a fair share of the blame. How was the capital of India, one of India’s wealthiest states, running out of oxygen – despite a year to prepare.
Laxity in the lockdown
During the first lockdown, we were promised to give up your dreams for a year and we will use that time to build the infrastructure to defeat the enemy. And the people complied. Family income, students’ hope for a better future, graduate students hope for a job. India sacrificed itself to ensure the safety of other Indians. GDP was hit hard, people fell into poverty, SMEs and entrepreneurs struggled to keep their businesses up. And why? We are still not prepared. And much of it was brought about by policy that doesn’t translate into action. By statements that were aimed at advertising, with little follow-up.
This year is over. It’s been 15 months since we first closed our doors – and yet hospitals are struggling for the most part. People are running out of oxygen. Many of us have heard stories of people dying at home because they couldn’t find an oxygen cylinder. Advice from scientists, expert committees and parliamentary committees has been ignored as governments – both state and central – have prioritized politics and power over the security of its citizens.
The global vaccine producer does not have enough vaccines for its people – because no one has planned to vaccinate the entire population. We have succeeded in vaccinating less than 10% of our population, and we cannot do more because there are not enough vaccines ordered.
When it comes to the next time we’re asked for our vote – our only method of assessment has to be – what have they done for us. How prepared were the political class for what happened? Did they plan for us, did they implement it well? Did they come to their constituencies to work for the people? Have they set up hospitals and bases? Were they there for help and relief? If not, what were they doing?
This obsession with temples and monuments, statues and vanity projects must end and the focus must be on the basics – education, infrastructure, health – and the only people who can shift this attention are us Indians.
The writer works at the intersection of digital content, technology and audience. She is a writer, columnist, guest professor and director.