India is in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis, where the country is precariously riding the grips of a second-wave of COVID-19. Cases are surpassing even the United States and Brazil. The death toll is one such that a 24/7 crematorium is set up in multiple areas across the country as there is nowhere to bury the dead. The country is flailing under the incredible burden on the health care system, with an insurmountable shortage of hospital beds, ventilators and healthcare workers. The people of India are targeting their anger and sorrow towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi, criticising his response to the pandemic and allowing a situation so dire to get out of control so quickly and voraciously.
The reason for the intensity of the second wave, given how well India fared in the first wave, is likely due to a number of reasons; a new variant floating around the country, lack of regulation, high levels of negligence and complacency, as well as mass gatherings with no mask wearing and no social distancing. Modi himself has addressed rallies where over 20,000 people have attended, and when leaders address mass gatherings without masks and social distancing, the public will not only assume everything is normal, they will lose their fear of COVID. Modi and his government have cracked down on social media; especially posts which criticised his response. Facebook and Twitter posts depicting criticism would mysteriously disappear within hours of being uploaded. Modi also insisted that he would not politicise the pandemic, but he has done exactly that, with his party pointing fingers and playing the blame game at state leaders from the opposition government, who in turn would also point their fingers back. What both sides of government fail to recognise is that in the middle of this deadly political game they play, human lives and livelihoods hang precariously in the balance of life and death.
Last March, Modi announced a nationwide lockdown of 1.3 billion people with only 4 hours of notice. A mass exetus ensued, with all means of transport suspended and migrants fleeing back from the cities to their villages on foot. The rich and affluent hoarded food and medication, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Economic hardship permeated the livelihoods of the poor, who relied on daily income from street vending, waste picking, domestic work and shopkeeping to put food on the table. They survived by restricting their food, borrowing money and helping one another. And thus, given the trauma these people have experienced, it is clear why in this second wave, there is a growing consensus of fear, anger, mistrust and anxiety at what will happen next.
India cannot afford to go into a nation-wide lockdown because it is not equitable nor sustainable for the whole population. It is time for Modi to step up and show decisive and strong leadership to the billions in his country and try to control the surge of the virus and provide financial assistance to the millions of urban poor and help them reach their villages with their dignity intact. Most of India’s population cannot afford to isolate at home for prolonged periods as they rely on daily earnings to survive. Modi has to be vigilant and smart about how he will control the pandemic in such a way that will not damage the lives of his people. Countless lives are on the line and being able to separate health from politics is a good starting point.
India needs help. India is running out of oxygen, ventilators, hospital beds, COVID testing kits and more. Donate at www.feedingindia.org/donate/help-save-my-india to help save at least one life.
Written and illustrated by Upeksha Galappaththie.