Modi’s Covid-19 policies make clear that in India some lives matter more than others!

Draconian government responses to the pandemic have merely served to widen India’s class, caste, gender and religious divides ‘Narendra Modi announced India’s lockdown with just four hours’ notice.’ Workers on the Delhi-Meerut expressway on the day of the announcement. (Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images).


Modi's Covid-19 policies make clear that in India some lives matter more than others!  Jayati Ghosh, in Guardian UK (29.07.20). poet in Varghese Pamplanil rose to the Heaven and hit the Bull’s eye and mine as well! Whom and what did he hit? Read the poem in CCV WALKING WITH YOU, CCV 17/07/2020. A picture is worth a thousand words.  See it, read it and embrace it (“I have been a stranger and you took me in!”).

Pamplanil standing outside all religious, political class and caste divides, has become a World Citizen in today’s Global Village. All of us have to live meaningfully today, not tomorrow or yesterday! This is Chewing the Cud, to absorb the Life giving Juice for today!

   A viral picture taken by PTI photographer Atul Yadav showed a migrant worker sitting on the roadside and crying on his phone. Identified as Bihar's Ram Pukar Pandit, his one-year-old son passed away and he was unable to see him. Ram Pukar used to work in Delhi and he tried to return home but was stopped at the UP Gate. (Image: PTI)

Ever since I read  Pamplanil’s poetical flourish which cut me to the quick, I was feeling ill-at-ease to sing with him, my heart burns even greater, at the sound and sight of the downtrodden poor on the margins of society, away from home to search work, but now jobless, money less, foodless and unable to afford even public transport.  So they are forced to trudge home  hundreds of miles under the scorching heat of the sun, risking being run over by speeding trains, with the nonchalant government looking the other way.  


Nazarine, Son of Man

For the well-heeled or semi-heeled workers abroad who lost jobs, the ruling class is thoughtful to provide cost-free flights to bring them home as they are sending their earnings to cushion the country’s economic base! A quid pro quo! It is this mass of migrants returning and numbering over 450 million are the ‘Les Miserables’ of India today who have nobody  to shed tears and cry out “I have pity on the multitude’ and multiply bread. That was a Nazarene Jew  who styled himself the SON OF MAN! 

He was an embodiment of humane humanity, but he died 2000 years ago. Even those who claim his legacy under the glorified and embellished name CHRISTIAN live on in well-decked churches and cathedrals imitating their royal Emperor Constantine and preach ad nauseam; “Those who do not work should not eat, but work not and sweat NOT! " 


Only one Christian alive?

But Neietche Friedrich Nietzsche said of them: “There was only one Christian alive, he died on the cross!” Those alive are in the business of prayer-shops, and clamour for equal treatment with LIQUOR SHOPS which sell their products at exhorbitant price and make FAST BUCKS!  Who can blame them for fighting for EQUALITY? 

Praise them and imitate them? That is why they,  securely ensconced in Cathedrals,  have no dearth of enthusiastic BLIND followers! “Oh tempora! Oh mores!” In contrast the scattered sheep, hounded by wolves, bleat for succour and hear the sounds of a Good Shepherd called Francis, “a poor church for the poor!”,  who said empty convents and churches should be opened  as “Love & Care homes” for the poor homeless on the streets, now easy victims of Covid 19!  


CCV suggested it many times

CCV and our FACEBOOK cried it out many times but got crushed like a whimper in the wilderness! Sic transit Gloria Mundi! Thus passes the glory of this world glittering, exploding and leaving a trail of suffocating black smoke in the air to poison our mother Earth! But the ‘merry-go-round of the Faith-addicted goes on unabatted believing in all sorts of prophesies in Lourdes and  forecasters like  St. Malachy of Ireland and Nostradamus, a French physician that Francis is the 112th and last Pope. We and others quoted it when he was elected. 


Dolan Damed Disgrace!

But those who are looking for Papal throne like NY Cardinal Timothy Dolan sent copies of a book  suggesting qualities desirable in a future pope to 222 cardinal electors across the globe. Someone has bluntly called it “a Damed Disgrace!”  Public campaining is alive and kicking when Pope Francis is quite alive although  he has many times prayed earnestly during Mass at St. Marthas for light to resign gracefully like Benedict! Poor Holy Spirit! Whom will he/she/it  listen to?  May Francis live a hundred years! 

In the mean time the bulk of seafarers in the TITANIC called the Church which even a God could not sink, are sending SOS around the globe as they are molested constantly by clergy-sex unleashed by celibate prelates, in addition to Covid 19! 


Titanic-Church Sinking?

In the midst of all this, what is the SON OF MAN the Captain of the Bark of Peter doing? Sleeping soundly undisturbed on the deck? No, no, he is slumbering peacefully in the hearts of each one of those on the Road with no place to rest their head, relishing the warmth of each one’s love and light and listening to the poetry of talented souls like Pamplanil and providing them in  copious measure that STRENGTH & COURAGE which he showed while hanging on the cross! To bear the cross and win the crown!


Walking the WAY!

Yes I too did it wearing a bold face while left on the road as a “renegade from the priesthood” and answering friendly souls asking me: “What are you doing now james?” My ready answer used to be: “Walking on the WAY!” Nobody understood it. Didn’t that illiterate Nazarine say: “I am the WAY?” I was trying it without shoes! He fell thrice on his way! I don’t know how many times I did, being a “know-nothing!” 


Keep Smiling!

But still on my feet,  walking with the lowly as Pamplanil does in his poem, not due to any smartness of mine, but all thanks to the GIVER of all good things in life! He/she/it always provided the need on the Mountain top! Why, don’t know still. So the search continues still! May be beyond the portals of the great gateway I fondly call: DEATH! Want to meet all the great, gracious people who helped me on my long walk! So keep smiling all the WAY! james kottoor, editor ccv.

Please read below Jayati Ghosh’s narrative, really a touching account, a farther franker view of what we in India must be most concerned today, to walk with the millions of lowly placed, to help them at least to stand on their feet.  All the rest can wait!

In February, 12-year-old Jamlo Makdam left her home in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh to work as a farm labourer in the chilli fields of Telangana, earning 200 rupees (about £2) a day. But on the morning of 23 March, she – along with hundreds of million others across the country – suddenly discovered that they were not allowed to work. 

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, had announced India’s draconian lockdown the previous evening, stopping all economic activity, even all movement, with just four hours’ notice. No public transport, no people allowed on roads, no shops or workplaces open; and no chance of livelihood for the 450 million or so informal workers in India who have no legal or social protections.

For a while, the young girl lived off the wages she had been saving up to take home. But in a few weeks the money had run out, and without any compensation in the form of food or cash transfers, she and her friends were on the verge of starvation. Desperate, they began the long trek home, walking 150km over three days and nights through forests and fields, avoiding the highways where they could be stopped and punished by police simply for daring to be out on the road. But on 18 April, dehydrated and malnourished, Jamlo collapsed and died, just a few hours away from her home.

If societal responses have been lacking, government responses have been even worse. Jamlo became another statistic in the ever-increasing number of “lockdown deaths”, now estimated to be nearly a thousand, resulting from the brutal state response to Covid-19 that has both created a humanitarian catastrophe and failed to stop the relentless surge of the disease. In India, dealing with the pandemic has never really been about lives versus livelihoods: it was, and continues to be, about lives versus lives, with some lives being much cheaper than others. India has been a world leader in economic disparities and social discrimination for a while; the pandemic policy response brought this upfront while introducing newer, even more unsavoury, elements.

The disease entered India through those who had travelled abroad – the top 2% of the population. But the poor have had to suffer disproportionately because of it – and now, increasingly, are being blamed for its spread. Centuries-old practices concerning pollution, purity and stigma that were part of caste-based hierarchical Hinduism, have been repurposed as “social distancing”, with health concerns justifying crudely discriminatory behaviour. Elite and middle-class attitudes have been disgraceful: hypocritically banging plates to celebrate health workers, but then stigmatising them as sources of infection and not caring to ensure pay or protection for the worst-paid frontline workers in community health and sanitation.

If societal responses have been lacking, government responses have been even worse. (States like Kerala are honourable exceptions.) The central government’s approach to public health has been miserly, incompetent and insensitive. Containment policies copied from China and Europe display no recognition of the lived reality of much of India’s population. Social – more accurately physical – distancing can’t be done by people in crowded and congested homes with five or more people living in one room. Frequent hand-washing is a luxury when access to clean water is limited, and it must be collected through lengthy, arduous journeys made by women and girls. But officialdom has seen no need to adjust these guidelines or make it possible for poor people to achieve them. And treatment for the infected varies hugely according to income: public hospitals are overcrowded and overstretched; private ones charge stratospheric rates.

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The official attitude to the estimated 100 million or more rural-urban migrants who build India’s towns and cities and provide their services was even more telling. Early into the lockdown, special repatriation flights were arranged for Indians stranded abroad. But internal migrants got no such relief for two months; they were deprived of their right to livelihood but only – and rarely – received the most paltry compensation. When, in desperation, they travelled on handcarts, containers and cement mixers or simply walked hundreds of kilometres to get home, they faced beatings, detention, being sprayed with disinfectant, even being killed on rail tracks where they slept thinking that no trains were allowed. The arbitrary dusk-to-dawn nationwide curfews (with no public health rationale) forced them to walk in the blazing heat. When special train services for such migrants were finally started, nearly two months into lockdown, impoverished workers had to congregate in stations in large numbers to get tickets, expose themselves to infection and then pay full fares. Conditions on these trains were often so appalling, with delayed journeys in intense heat without food and water provision, that in just 10 days in May, 80 people died on board.

India’s public distribution system, which currently holds nearly 100 million tonnes of food grain stocks, could have been used to feed the newly hungry. But only small amounts have been released for free distribution even as evidence of starvation grows, and this parsimony has been compounded by the obscenity of selling some food stocks to convert into ethanol for making hand sanitisers. Meanwhile, the single-minded focus on Covid-19 means that other health concerns of the poor are ignored or given less attention. Tuberculosis has been the biggest killer of the poor in India, but many TB patients have not received treatment. Immunisation of children has suffered and hospital births have fallen by 40%.

There are many other ways that policy responses to Covid-19 have intensified existing inequalities of class, caste, and gender and even religion. Despite this, poll numbers do not appear to show much of a drop in support for Modi and the opposition (including political parties, trade unions and social movements) does not seem have made much headway.

Is the current apparently passive, fatalistic attitude of the oppressed millions the sign of a new subjugation – or simply a lull before the storm?

(Jayati Ghosh is professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru university, New Delhi)

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