India’s poor: Caught between Hunger and Covid 19

coronavirus poor

A few weeks back, a heart wrenching short video thronged internet, displaying a man scooping and collecting milk hurriedly, in a container that was spilt on a road, while a pack of stray dogs were drinking the same milk. This scramble between the man and the dogs sent shivers down the spines and visualized the unheard pangs of destitute in India going hungry, adding to the crisis of Coronavirus Lockdown. The place, where this incident took place, is just some six kilometers away from the historical monument, the Taj Mahal. This particular incident stands as a symbol of millions of famished people left without food, and are thus in dire Straits, more miserable than ever.

Lockdown : The only vaccine

The whole world is under a strict lockdown, as has been forced by the Global pandemic, which seems not holding back anytime soon. The global pandemic has proven to be another quiver in the arrow, thus adding to the already existing woes of the world.  Over 3 million positive cases of coronavirus have emerged, while the total number of deaths have crossed 200000 globally. When Coronavirus set it’s foot in India, being the 2nd most populated country in the world with a population of over 1.3 Billion, having a suboptimal health infrastructure, and struggling with umpteen shortcomings, India was forced to observe a country wide lockdown in order to halt the wave of mass spreading of the virus. With no vaccine in hand, the whole world including India was left with the only viable option of massive lockdown despite the untoward economic and social ramifications in coming. On 22 March, 2020, a fourteen hour voluntary public curfew was enforced in India and the 21 day nationwide lockdown was ordered on 24 March, 2020, when the total number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases was nigh on 500. Considering the no – holding back of the pandemic, India extended the nationwide lockdown on 14 April, till 3 May.

Poverty in India

For a country like India, the lockdown, on one hand has halted the community spread at large while on the other hand, it has severely affected the already wobbling Indian economy. Consequently, millions of poor have been driven into hunger and penury. In India, more than 800 million people are considered poor. Not only this, India is home to the largest number of hungry people in the world. Moreover, over 200 million people are food insecure. In the 2019, Global Hunger Index, India was ranked 102’nd out of the 117 qualifying countries, portraying the gravity of the hunger crisis in the country. Worsening the plight of the poor, amidst the Coronavirus lockdown, millions of people, including daily wagers, migrant workers and laborers have been left most vulnerable. The International Labour Organization (ILO) in it’s report fears that over 400 million workers in the informal economy in India are at a greater peril to sink deeper into poverty, during the pandemic crisis.

Migrant workers crisis

After the enforcement of complete lockdown, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers thronged Anand Vihar Bus Terminus, on the Delhi-UP Border, to head back to their homes after being rendered homeless and jobless. The Government ordered the blockade of entries and sealed the borders, thus preventing the exodus. “We fear hunger will kill us, before coronavirus” was the tagline, palpable on the faces of these impoverished workers caught between the hunger and Coronavirus. So far, many migrant workers have lost their lives during the lockdown. Despite the arrangements made by the government, local administrations, and Samaritan groups, the number of destitute is overwhelming and are struggling to feed themselves. Unfortunately in many places, the police has resorted to unacceptable violence. Fears of mass starvation hangs over millions, due to the absence of a healthy policy on the poor, by the government. Similar incidents took place in Mumbai, Kolkata and other parts of India. People residing in villages, mostly earn hardly enough to make their ends meet. Rickshaw drivers, daily wagers, laborers, local vendors, milk sellers, and those doing other daily chores are without work now, thereby driven into extreme poverty.

Too little, too late

Lately, the Indian government announced a 1.7 trillion relief package for the poor, making an attempt to tackle the poverty and food crisis hit by the lockdown. The proposed package constitutes about 1% of the country’s GDP. However this seems to be not enough. Activists and economists are of the view that this relief package may exclude millions. The predicament lies in the non availability of documents, registrations with schemes, faulty Adhaar systems, and unequal distribution. The poor implementation on ground is yet another challenge. Nobody denies the fact that poverty is a grave challenge for India and given the magnitude of the challenge, it cannot be eliminated in one go, however the communal, biased and pompous policies of the Modi government have proliferated the gap between rich and poor. The grandiose and hyperbolizing speeches in “Man Ki Baat” fails to act on the ground, and continues to befool and flatter the right wing only.

The Government’s Pomp and Show

The worsening condition of farmers and increase in the number of suicide cases, inefficient implementation of GST and demonetization, fake promises, mere slogans, hate cultivation underlies some of the dead in the water policies of Indian government, primarily responsible for the dwindling condition of those in penury. The Indian Premier built a world’s tallest statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel at a whooping cost of almost 3000 crore ($430 Billion). On the other hand, over 1500 farmers threatened to drown themselves, during the unveiling of ghe Statue of unity over the 12 crore unpaid dues for selling their sugarcane to the  already closed Sardar Patel Mill. Indian farmers in unison have been struggling to make their ends meet as the Indian economy continues to plummet while the country’s premier fiddled away the national wealth at the cost of spurring the poverty. The only thing India managed well was the Trump’s India visit. The Modi government spent over 100 cores , to host his short visit to India. Though shameless, as well as an act of violation of human dignity, a wall was built in Ahmedabad to keep Trump’s eyes off the slum settlements. Furthermore over 45 families, living on the encroached road for over two decades, were forced to evacuate their homes. All this was done to meet the objectives of hiding India’s poverty and perhaps making the POTUS believe that India is more developed than the US. Contrary to the expectations, the world could not resist laughing at this absurd window dressing of India. The government cited that funds was not a constraint for the event. Ironically , this is the same country, where over 20 crore people go to bed hungry every night. The same government has given India a 45 year-high unemployment rate.

Long Story Short

Whether it’s Covid 19 or not, the sufferings never go on holidays, for a poor man. Given the predicaments being brought by this global pandemic, it has only mushroomed his existing calamities, thereby jeopardizing his survival. Who will kill him first, hunger or the novel Coronavirus, however remains a  question mark. May God be with them!

Shah Hussain, MBA from University of Kashmir 

[email protected] 




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