“If you are lucky to get a bed in hospital, you have to buy an oxygen cylinder every eight hours to keep your patient alive. Then, you get the only dead body back”. A boy carrying the dead body of his mother in an auto-rickshaw tells the reporter in the Capital of India.
“I spent seven days outside the hospital where my mother was admitted, bought oxygen for one lac rupees and now I am begging the head of the crematorium to do her last rites. This is what India has become today”. The man crying outside the crematorium was waiting beside a pile of dead bodies to get a turn for the final rites of his mother.
Watching such scenes of helplessness, gasping, dying, and anger on the streets of India, it is hard to console the people and comfort them with hollow words that we have to keep a hold on to each other. This looks relentless cycle of agony and pain at the moment.
Those behind the policy of spreading ultra-nationalism couldn’t provide a petty bed or oxygen or medicine to dying people to keep them breathing at the time when they need it the most.
The leaders take pride in awakening the ‘Hindu identity and creating self-sufficient institutions in India. If self-sufficiency or ‘aatam nirbhar’ was the only goal set for Hindu awakening, why are people denied admission in hospitals? Or why are people buying oxygen in the black market and why are people sent back from health centres for the shortage of vaccines?
And, why are thousands dying like flies in every part of the country from the sudden surge of a deadly virus?
Instead of spending millions on promoting hatred and fanaticism, the focus should have been placed on the health sector or the basic infrastructure that seems in shambles and incapable of handling the crisis. The situation was grim in many developed countries where advanced planning of logistics, disaster management, and the establishment of temporary hospitals eased the burden on the health care system.
The burden has shifted to the international community to spread the word about the collapse of the Indian medical system, thus supply beds, oxygen, and medicine to the dying people.
The country which would not accept international aid for a few decades is now awaiting it.
Those who had recently called India the “world pharmacy” do not even have pain killers for its swollen population. The so-called largest vaccine-making country has to beg America to lift restrictions on the raw materials so that the vaccines can be made for its population instead of selling them to other countries first.
While the corona virus has exposed the claims of self-sufficiency of most countries, it has also failed the process of de-globalization miserably. It is difficult to close borders in the realm of nationalism or national identity after the world has been turned into a global village. If that were the case, the virus would not have crossed the borders and caused havoc in the whole world.
The populist concepts of “America first” or “Brexit” or “Hindu Rashtra” are dying like covid patients around the globe. Co-existence and inclusiveness have no other options.
Had the Indian leadership not been obsessed with the sectarian politics, religious hatred, and upper caste or lower caste issues, and had focussed on the up-gradation of health and basic infrastructure for which it had a landslide victory in elections, India might not be in the position world is watching on the media channels and ashamed to believe the false dream of a five trillion economy.
The international media has lamented over the poor management and the callousness of the leadership. At the same time, appealed for sending aid and donations to save the people of India.
Leading US medical expert Dr. Ashish Jaha stressed in one of the interviews on media that “the situation in India could be even worse in the next two weeks, given that the government has been in denial and cannot control the disease.”
He made it a point that “One can only hope to get rid of it immediately, but the danger is that the virus could spread beyond Indian borders, so the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries need not only send immediate medical aid but also large-scale funding to build public health infrastructure. Helping India at this critical juncture is to stop spreading it to other countries”.
More than a hundred countries have sent planeloads of medical aid to India but the management of the supplies has become another issue in the country that lacks basic logistics and distribution system.
The condition of the American people would have been much worse than that of the Indians if Donald Trump had won the election who initially questioned the wearing of masks like a member of the Indian Parliament. Trump did not care about the loss of thousands of lives in the US by declaring the virus as a foreign body.
I think the American people were saved by an invisible power that Joe Biden won the election, and he made the handling of the corona virus his priority. He saved the people by arranging the vaccine, awareness about precautions, masks, tests, and cancellation of all gatherings. The credit goes to his policy that the economy has shown signs of recovery, although he also repeated the mantra of saving “America First” when rolling out his vaccination program.
Biden announced a few days ago that raw materials for vaccines would be given to poor countries after India called to lift a ban.
Why is the situation so grave in India despite the warning from the international organizations and medical experts that the surge will be too dangerous for India if covid procedures were not adhered to seriously? Dr. Ashish Jaha admitted in an interview that ‘India was warned soon the new variant of covid was identified last year. But the people under the influence of their leaders have been so caught up in the Hindutva wave that they too became oblivious to the fear of the virus.
Bjp leaders were playing politics at a time when most countries of the world were fighting a war to control the corona and thousands of people were being hospitalized for the virus in different states of India. At the same time, millions of Hindus were attending the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand. The government seemed to gloat and praise people to attend the Hindu festival. Hindutva leaders were preparing to celebrate their victory in West Bengal and other states where the election rallies were in full bloom.
At the Kumbh Mela, millions of people were immersing themselves in the river Ganges and feeling blessed. According to Dr. Mahesh Tripathi of Lucknow, each dipper himself was turning into a deadly virus, which on average could have infected ten people initially and then gaining the ability to influence others.
What government did immediately ban the media from even mentioning the Kumbh Mela?
Dr. Tripathi says, “If there was a responsible and sensitive government, every person involved in Kumbh would be found and tested, quarantined and those close to him would be traced, hospitals would be provided with beds, oxygen, and medicine on an emergency basis. But our government only banned criticism of Modi on Twitter and warned to confiscate the property of patients who were seen complaining of lack of oxygen or medicine. People are dying on the streets like flies. Bodies are rotting in the streets; millions of people are struggling to breathe. Such helplessness and indignity of patients were witnessed for the first time in India. It would have been better if this country had not achieved freedom”.
Seeing large crowds at election rallies in several states, including West Bengal, Hindutva leaders were showing off that such large gatherings have broken the backs of the opposition. I wish leaders had realized that these gatherings would break the backs of millions of families who would have to return empty-handed from every hospital for oxygen cylinders, would have to lose their life in auto-rickshaws due to lack of beds, and have to beg for medicine in the middle of the road.
In a country where hospitals have one doctor for every 50,000 patients and one bed for more than 10,000 patients, should the Prime Minister of that country spend two thousand crores on a statue of Sardar Patel? With such a hefty sum, one could at least buy beds for all the hospitals in India so that patients would not have to suffer to die in the car parks.
Ram Prasad, a Delhi resident and a staunch supporter of BJP whose mother did not get admission in the hospital and died on the road, says: “How good it would have been if Modi had strengthened the country’s health system and basic infrastructure before the spread of Hindutva, would have provided the means of livelihood, prevented violence and instability instead of fomenting hatred, refrained from depriving the people of their rights and avoid threats to invade other countries. Then playing the drums of Hindus, his nation, his rights, we would not have faced the worst situation that millions of people in India are facing today due to the rising tide of the Corona and the paralyzed system”.
The recent order by the Madras High Court against the Election Commission of India that the officials of the Commission should be tried for the surge in covid cases has made the issue of gatherings very serious, but I wish a court had also issued the order that those leaders appreciating the large election rallies in Bengal and then leaving them helpless to die of the virus, are made responsible for millions of deaths. They would also be added to the list of murderers so that no one in power would consider it a license to shed the blood of humanity.
Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor is an ex editor of BBC and a penguin author of ‘lost in terror’.