The Coronavirus pandemic, otherwise known as COVID-19, has not just caused a grave health hazard all across the world, but it has also managed to churn the global economy and affect various socio- cultural and economic communities around the world. Speaking about India, the virus, whose presence was confirmed only in late January this year, has, as of now, affected 35, 043 people and has caused 1147 deaths. Since the pandemic broke out, the governments in the affected countries have been striving to search a cure alongside implementing social relief measures to protect their citizens. The Indian government too had initiated a similar gesture. Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his counsel of ministers and experts, on 24th March, had implemented a 21- day lockdown in the country. It has now been extended to 3rd May, 2020 and might be extended further.
While the efforts of the government are commendable, I believe that they do not take into consideration the wellbeing of several segments of the Indian population. Firstly, they have neglected the security needs of the migrant workers and daily wage labourers. The sudden announcement of the lockdown left the migrant workers devoid of any accommodation during the pandemic and they were forced to walk, to their distant homes. No security has been offered to the daily wage labourers as well for losing out on days of work. The government has failed to address the sanitation and security needs of women migrant workers. A provision has been made to transfer Rs. 500 to the Jan Dhan accounts of women for the next three months. But do all women have Jan Dhan accounts? The government has not been able to provide assistance to its citizens who do not have access to even meagre resources. The government has not taken any measure to guarantee security to the domestic workers (who are largely women). The government has only requested the employers to not deduct their payments. But there exists no guarantee that all of them will follow it. Social distancing has also restricted them to their houses and jeopardised their income- earning capacity. It has also exposed them to other vulnerabilities.
The usage of the term ‘social distancing’ has also helped to perpetuate age old stigmas and discrimination in the country. Social distancing has long been practiced in a country which is divided along the lines of caste, class, gender and other socio- economic identifiers. The standardisation of the term ‘social distancing’ has weighed in a certain degree of permanency to it and has, to a certain extent, justified the injustices practiced in its name. The labelling of North- Eastern women as ‘corona’ provides an instance.
While certain state governments have taken certain measures with regard to the homeless, they still continue to battle both security and sanitation insecurities without the concerted efforts of all governments.
The pandemic has also reinforced caste taboos and prejudices. Unlike the upper- caste, upper- class students who have access to technology and financial security can continue learning through online classes, the poor, lower-caste, students, who were dependent on government schools and the mid- day meals , have discontinued learning. Already victims of a patriarchal society, girl students become the worst sufferers in this scenario as well.
The IMF has very recently determined that recession has already begun and the world economy might recover only in 2021. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business School in 2017, the researcher had ascertained that men are more likely to get jobs than women, despite having similar academic qualifications. The imagination of gendered roles have been such that it is acceptable to see a woman engage in the public domain but it is still largely unacceptable to see a man participating in the private domain. The role of a care- giver has always been associated with women and hence, in dire times, it is assumed that a man, the “breadwinner”, can fend for his family while a woman can tend to hers.
That needs of different socio- economic, regional and gender groups have not been prioritised by the government. But what is disappointing is that even in times of such a crisis, evils like male chauvinism, racism and other social prejudices have continued to play a role in perpetuating disparity. The crisis has, in fact, helped to reinforce discrimination. The consequences of the virus have taken a heavy toll, it has contributed to the further loss of the ideals of equality and equity in the country.
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N.D. (2020, March 27). FM Nirmala Sitharaman announces Rs. 1.7 lakh crore relief package for poor. The Economic Times.
Gerdamen, D. (2017, September 11). Why employers favour men. Working Knowledge: Business Research for Business Leaders. Retrieved from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-employers-favor-men
The author of this title is Sampurna Sarkar who is currently pursuing her Masters in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She takes a keen interest in matters concerning gender and sexuality.