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Migrant workers' journey home remains a challenge, shame on the gov't!

Shramik Special trains have been stopped by Gujarat, and hundreds wait in Gurgaon for government to send more buses

02 Jun 2020

Migrants

While the railways have made the Shramik Special train service sound like its biggest humanitarian service, ground realities being reported from across the country show a different picture. There is confusion, and now there is news of the train service being stopped in some states. The  Indian Express has reported that Gujarat has announced the closure of Shramik Special train service.

The state’s officials have claimed that “at least 77% of the total 15.18 lakh migrant workers” have already been sent to their homes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The others were sent to West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir, stated the IE report.

The news report quotes the state’s Labour and Employment department which has stated that 1,017 trains were run between May 2 and May 31 on which 15.18 lakh migrant workers went to their native states. “This was the biggest planned migration by any state in Independent India, and it has been made possible by great teamwork and coordination between district authorities, departments, and various agencies involved,”  Vipul Mittra, additional chief secretary, labour and employment department, who is also the state’s nodal officer for transport of migrant workers, students, pilgrims, tourists, and other stranded persons on special trains, is quoted in the IE. He claims that this is the largest number of passengers moved in the country.


The numbers of trains running have come down considerably, said the report. In the beginning there were “more than 40 trains per day", then it was “25 on Wednesday,19 on Thursday, 13 on Friday, and 10 on Saturday.” Seven special trains were planned for Sunday, and the relocation project was shut down on Monday. While the state administration seems sure there are no more stranded workers who want to leave Gujarat, the ground reality may be different. It is not clear if migrant workers who decide to leave Gujarat in the coming weeks will be given support to do so by the state.

Meanwhile, on a different track altogether, news of a woman giving birth to a baby girl on Shramik Special train at Bokaro has also come in. A surreal photo accompanying The Telegraph report shows the naturally exhausted young mother, identified as Asimaa, on a wheelchair, holding her newborn being escorted by three PPE clad workers and others at the station. She was travelling from Thrissur  to her hometown Chotibimra with her husband Johnson who is a migrant worker. The couple boarded the train at Thrissur, Kerala and had planned to deboard at Bokaro Railway Station and then go by road to their village Simdega. However, Asimaa went into labour aboard the train, by the time it reached Bokaro, and doctors reached her, the baby was on its way. Both the mother and child were then taken to hospital.

While things seemed to have ended well for the young parents and their baby, major confusion has been reported from Gurgaon in Haryana, where hundreds of migrants are stuck in a stadium. Around 800 migrant workers including young women and the elderly have had to wait in the open overnight as they could not get on board trains and buses. According to information shared by volunteers, the workers were called to assemble at Tau Devi Lal stadium in Gurgaon on Monday morning, “to board a train passing through Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha to W Bengal”. The workers had already packed up, and vacated their rented rooms and once at the stadium discovered there were not enough buses to transport them. Most had nowhere to go back to for the night and ended up sleeping at the stadium. Around 500 were sent back to Rewari, Karnal & Sirsa shelters last night. And as reported by one of the 400 in Rewari school shelter there were around 30 sleeping in each classroom.

Till Tuesday afternoon, only six buses have been arranged by the state administration. “The workers need around 20 more busses to be plied,” said Captain Rupinder Kaur, who is coordinating the civil society volunteer work and also arranging food and water for the workers.

Meanwhile, the Haryana administration has claimed that 11 trains had been cancelled due to “low turnout”. The schedule and details of Shramik Special Trains out of Gurgaon is not known and both workers and volunteers are not informed regularly. Now it is being noted that the officials from the SDMs office are asking NGOs to “organise buses because they have admitted they don’t have enough”. Some buses have arrived on Tuesday morning, but none have left. To add to everything, the Delhi-Haryana border is also sealed this week.

Migrant workers' journey home remains a challenge, shame on the gov't!

Shramik Special trains have been stopped by Gujarat, and hundreds wait in Gurgaon for government to send more buses

Migrants

While the railways have made the Shramik Special train service sound like its biggest humanitarian service, ground realities being reported from across the country show a different picture. There is confusion, and now there is news of the train service being stopped in some states. The  Indian Express has reported that Gujarat has announced the closure of Shramik Special train service.

The state’s officials have claimed that “at least 77% of the total 15.18 lakh migrant workers” have already been sent to their homes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The others were sent to West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir, stated the IE report.

The news report quotes the state’s Labour and Employment department which has stated that 1,017 trains were run between May 2 and May 31 on which 15.18 lakh migrant workers went to their native states. “This was the biggest planned migration by any state in Independent India, and it has been made possible by great teamwork and coordination between district authorities, departments, and various agencies involved,”  Vipul Mittra, additional chief secretary, labour and employment department, who is also the state’s nodal officer for transport of migrant workers, students, pilgrims, tourists, and other stranded persons on special trains, is quoted in the IE. He claims that this is the largest number of passengers moved in the country.


The numbers of trains running have come down considerably, said the report. In the beginning there were “more than 40 trains per day", then it was “25 on Wednesday,19 on Thursday, 13 on Friday, and 10 on Saturday.” Seven special trains were planned for Sunday, and the relocation project was shut down on Monday. While the state administration seems sure there are no more stranded workers who want to leave Gujarat, the ground reality may be different. It is not clear if migrant workers who decide to leave Gujarat in the coming weeks will be given support to do so by the state.

Meanwhile, on a different track altogether, news of a woman giving birth to a baby girl on Shramik Special train at Bokaro has also come in. A surreal photo accompanying The Telegraph report shows the naturally exhausted young mother, identified as Asimaa, on a wheelchair, holding her newborn being escorted by three PPE clad workers and others at the station. She was travelling from Thrissur  to her hometown Chotibimra with her husband Johnson who is a migrant worker. The couple boarded the train at Thrissur, Kerala and had planned to deboard at Bokaro Railway Station and then go by road to their village Simdega. However, Asimaa went into labour aboard the train, by the time it reached Bokaro, and doctors reached her, the baby was on its way. Both the mother and child were then taken to hospital.

While things seemed to have ended well for the young parents and their baby, major confusion has been reported from Gurgaon in Haryana, where hundreds of migrants are stuck in a stadium. Around 800 migrant workers including young women and the elderly have had to wait in the open overnight as they could not get on board trains and buses. According to information shared by volunteers, the workers were called to assemble at Tau Devi Lal stadium in Gurgaon on Monday morning, “to board a train passing through Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha to W Bengal”. The workers had already packed up, and vacated their rented rooms and once at the stadium discovered there were not enough buses to transport them. Most had nowhere to go back to for the night and ended up sleeping at the stadium. Around 500 were sent back to Rewari, Karnal & Sirsa shelters last night. And as reported by one of the 400 in Rewari school shelter there were around 30 sleeping in each classroom.

Till Tuesday afternoon, only six buses have been arranged by the state administration. “The workers need around 20 more busses to be plied,” said Captain Rupinder Kaur, who is coordinating the civil society volunteer work and also arranging food and water for the workers.

Meanwhile, the Haryana administration has claimed that 11 trains had been cancelled due to “low turnout”. The schedule and details of Shramik Special Trains out of Gurgaon is not known and both workers and volunteers are not informed regularly. Now it is being noted that the officials from the SDMs office are asking NGOs to “organise buses because they have admitted they don’t have enough”. Some buses have arrived on Tuesday morning, but none have left. To add to everything, the Delhi-Haryana border is also sealed this week.

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Muslim villagers in Bihar offer food to migrants on Mizoram-bound train in humanitarian gesture

Bihar was caught in a controversy after goons had attacked two north-east bound trains there last week

02 Jun 2020

Mizoram TrainImage Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

The Covid-19 pandemic still surging across the country has not only taken a physical toll on the people of India, but has particularly been a trying experience for minorities across the country after reports of widespread racism against those from the North-East and the ostracization of Muslims brought about by the media.

However, there are some instances which go to show that no matter how much some elements try to communalize the pandemic, the reality on ground will always be different.

An example of this came through a recent video where Muslims were seen offering food to the train passengers of Mizoram. A Shramik special train was on its way to Mizoram, taking stranded labourers back home, when it made a halt in Begusarai when villagers rushed with food packets to be delivered to them, reported The Siasat Daily.

Thanking the villagers for their gesture Mizoram CM Zoramthanga took to Twitter and said, “Few days after stranded Mizos offers their food to flood-affected victims on their way back, a brief halt of their #ShramikSpecialTrain at #Begusarai Bihar witnessed good #Samaritans offering them food in return! Goodness for goodness. #India is beautiful when flooded with #Love (sic).”

The act of humanity was also lauded by many others on Twitter.

 

 

 

This gesture came days after disturbing news of attacks and vandalism on Northeast bound trains in Bihar. At least two Shramik Special trains were attacked in the state. Inside Northeast reported that on May 24, a train arriving from Gurgaon carrying over 1,300 migrants to Dimapur was attacked by locals from Bihar after it crossed the Patna junction. It was reported that locals not only forcibly tried to enter inside the train, but also pelted stones and hit the doors and windows with sticks. The returnees also alleged that they had spent over 20 hours without food and water.

However, the chief spokesperson of Northeast Frontier Railway, Subhanan Chandra and the CPRO East Central Railway, Rajesh Kumar both termed the incident as a “minor scuffle”, The Hindu reported. Passengers also told the publication that the police took no action against the miscreants and remained mere spectators to the matter, apart from being violent against the returnees instead of taking action to stop the violent crowd.

On May 25, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh issued a statement condemning the attack on another Shramik special train 01650 that was bringing back stranded people from Goa to Manipur, ANI reported. He urged Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to look into the incident and book the miscreants. The train was attacked twice, once outside Barauni station and second time outside Katihar station.  

The goons passed vulgar and racist remarks against the returnees and even threatened to kill those on the train. A report by Scroll.in also showed that the train was to carry 914 Manipuris and 75 Arunachali persons and leave from Madgaon to run a 61 hour journey to Manipur. However, it turned into a hellish nightmare, first with the authorities giving an advisory that all returnees had to carry their own water, food and essentials, second due to filthy toilets and lack of water in bathrooms and third, due to the incessant attacks the returnees had to face.

The callousness of the Central government, first in issuing transport for migrants and second, in failing to assure their health and safety has evidently come to the fore with these attacks.

Related:

Don’t charge migrants for any rail or bus fare, says SC; puts onus on states
Why are only trains carrying migrants being ‘diverted’ to take longer routes?

Muslim villagers in Bihar offer food to migrants on Mizoram-bound train in humanitarian gesture

Bihar was caught in a controversy after goons had attacked two north-east bound trains there last week

Mizoram TrainImage Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

The Covid-19 pandemic still surging across the country has not only taken a physical toll on the people of India, but has particularly been a trying experience for minorities across the country after reports of widespread racism against those from the North-East and the ostracization of Muslims brought about by the media.

However, there are some instances which go to show that no matter how much some elements try to communalize the pandemic, the reality on ground will always be different.

An example of this came through a recent video where Muslims were seen offering food to the train passengers of Mizoram. A Shramik special train was on its way to Mizoram, taking stranded labourers back home, when it made a halt in Begusarai when villagers rushed with food packets to be delivered to them, reported The Siasat Daily.

Thanking the villagers for their gesture Mizoram CM Zoramthanga took to Twitter and said, “Few days after stranded Mizos offers their food to flood-affected victims on their way back, a brief halt of their #ShramikSpecialTrain at #Begusarai Bihar witnessed good #Samaritans offering them food in return! Goodness for goodness. #India is beautiful when flooded with #Love (sic).”

The act of humanity was also lauded by many others on Twitter.

 

 

 

This gesture came days after disturbing news of attacks and vandalism on Northeast bound trains in Bihar. At least two Shramik Special trains were attacked in the state. Inside Northeast reported that on May 24, a train arriving from Gurgaon carrying over 1,300 migrants to Dimapur was attacked by locals from Bihar after it crossed the Patna junction. It was reported that locals not only forcibly tried to enter inside the train, but also pelted stones and hit the doors and windows with sticks. The returnees also alleged that they had spent over 20 hours without food and water.

However, the chief spokesperson of Northeast Frontier Railway, Subhanan Chandra and the CPRO East Central Railway, Rajesh Kumar both termed the incident as a “minor scuffle”, The Hindu reported. Passengers also told the publication that the police took no action against the miscreants and remained mere spectators to the matter, apart from being violent against the returnees instead of taking action to stop the violent crowd.

On May 25, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh issued a statement condemning the attack on another Shramik special train 01650 that was bringing back stranded people from Goa to Manipur, ANI reported. He urged Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to look into the incident and book the miscreants. The train was attacked twice, once outside Barauni station and second time outside Katihar station.  

The goons passed vulgar and racist remarks against the returnees and even threatened to kill those on the train. A report by Scroll.in also showed that the train was to carry 914 Manipuris and 75 Arunachali persons and leave from Madgaon to run a 61 hour journey to Manipur. However, it turned into a hellish nightmare, first with the authorities giving an advisory that all returnees had to carry their own water, food and essentials, second due to filthy toilets and lack of water in bathrooms and third, due to the incessant attacks the returnees had to face.

The callousness of the Central government, first in issuing transport for migrants and second, in failing to assure their health and safety has evidently come to the fore with these attacks.

Related:

Don’t charge migrants for any rail or bus fare, says SC; puts onus on states
Why are only trains carrying migrants being ‘diverted’ to take longer routes?

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Unlock 1: Centre and States list lockdown exit strategy

The lockdown is in effect in containment zones till June 30, 2020

02 Jun 2020

LockdownImage Courtesy:in.news.yahoo.com

While on the one hand, India’s Covid-19 rate improved to 48 percent, on the other, the fourth phase of the lockdown came to an end on May 31, 2020. Soon, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an exit strategy terming it 'Unlock 1' which was divided into three phases. As per the Unlock 1 strategy, the lockdown in containment zones has been extended till June 30, 2020 and prohibited activities outside containment zones are to be re-opened in a phased manner.

In the first phase, religious places for public, hotels / restaurants and hospitality services and shopping malls would be allowed to open to the public on June 8, 2020.

In the second phase, to be decided in July, the re-opening of schools and colleges would be decided in consultation with States and Union Territories who would take into account the opinions of the stakeholders. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) would prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in consultation with the Central Ministries and State Departments for ensuring social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

No activity will be allowed in containment zones. Under the jurisdiction of the Greater Chennai Police – IT / ITes are permitted with a minimum of 40 persons (100 percent capacity outside containment zones), private offices can function at 50 percent strength (100 percent outside containment zones) and showrooms are permitted to open at 50 percent staff strength and without air conditioning and limited customers.

Restaurants can open from June 8 with 50 percent seating capacity and no air conditioning. Tea shops will follow the same directive too. Liquor retail shops will remain closed. Vegetable shops can function from 6 AM to 8 PM.

West Bengal

The government of West Bengal has extended the lockdown up to June 15 in containment zones. Existing restrictions continue to be in force. Relaxations allowed are – operation of tea gardens, jute mills, MSMEs, construction industries with 100 percent strength of workers with effect from June 1, 2020. Intra-state bus movement and private movement allowed. Religious places will be opened in consultation with local police stations but no more than 10 people will be allowed at a time. Indoor and outdoor activities related to TV and cinema production, barring reality show / web-portal and OTT platforms with not more than 35 people will be allowed from August 1, 2020.

Government offices will be allowed to re-open from June 8 with 70 percent capacity. Private offices, hotels / restaurants and malls will be allowed to open from June 8, 2020.

Jharkhand

In Jharkhand, services centres, call centres of private companies, shops in district headquarter areas (selected items), garages and motor shops, restaurants (home delivery and take away) and intra-district plying of public transport by autos/ tempos/e-rickshaws and manual rickshaws will be permitted.

Telangana

In areas outside containment zones, lockdown orders will be extended till June 7 with some relaxations. Restriction on movement of persons shall apply from 9 PM to 5 AM. No shops / establishments will remain open after 8 PM. There shall be no restriction on inter-state movement of persons.

States like Bihar and Telangana have stated that they will follow national directives.

Related:

When will we learn our lessons from previous pandemics?
Food, hunger, and the love language of service

Unlock 1: Centre and States list lockdown exit strategy

The lockdown is in effect in containment zones till June 30, 2020

LockdownImage Courtesy:in.news.yahoo.com

While on the one hand, India’s Covid-19 rate improved to 48 percent, on the other, the fourth phase of the lockdown came to an end on May 31, 2020. Soon, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an exit strategy terming it 'Unlock 1' which was divided into three phases. As per the Unlock 1 strategy, the lockdown in containment zones has been extended till June 30, 2020 and prohibited activities outside containment zones are to be re-opened in a phased manner.

In the first phase, religious places for public, hotels / restaurants and hospitality services and shopping malls would be allowed to open to the public on June 8, 2020.

In the second phase, to be decided in July, the re-opening of schools and colleges would be decided in consultation with States and Union Territories who would take into account the opinions of the stakeholders. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) would prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in consultation with the Central Ministries and State Departments for ensuring social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

No activity will be allowed in containment zones. Under the jurisdiction of the Greater Chennai Police – IT / ITes are permitted with a minimum of 40 persons (100 percent capacity outside containment zones), private offices can function at 50 percent strength (100 percent outside containment zones) and showrooms are permitted to open at 50 percent staff strength and without air conditioning and limited customers.

Restaurants can open from June 8 with 50 percent seating capacity and no air conditioning. Tea shops will follow the same directive too. Liquor retail shops will remain closed. Vegetable shops can function from 6 AM to 8 PM.

West Bengal

The government of West Bengal has extended the lockdown up to June 15 in containment zones. Existing restrictions continue to be in force. Relaxations allowed are – operation of tea gardens, jute mills, MSMEs, construction industries with 100 percent strength of workers with effect from June 1, 2020. Intra-state bus movement and private movement allowed. Religious places will be opened in consultation with local police stations but no more than 10 people will be allowed at a time. Indoor and outdoor activities related to TV and cinema production, barring reality show / web-portal and OTT platforms with not more than 35 people will be allowed from August 1, 2020.

Government offices will be allowed to re-open from June 8 with 70 percent capacity. Private offices, hotels / restaurants and malls will be allowed to open from June 8, 2020.

Jharkhand

In Jharkhand, services centres, call centres of private companies, shops in district headquarter areas (selected items), garages and motor shops, restaurants (home delivery and take away) and intra-district plying of public transport by autos/ tempos/e-rickshaws and manual rickshaws will be permitted.

Telangana

In areas outside containment zones, lockdown orders will be extended till June 7 with some relaxations. Restriction on movement of persons shall apply from 9 PM to 5 AM. No shops / establishments will remain open after 8 PM. There shall be no restriction on inter-state movement of persons.

States like Bihar and Telangana have stated that they will follow national directives.

Related:

When will we learn our lessons from previous pandemics?
Food, hunger, and the love language of service

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Concerned citizenry of Kerala call the Rs. 20 lakh crore package a “colossal betrayal”

They demanded that the PM withdraw the anti-people package and work to increase purchasing power of the people

01 Jun 2020

sitharaman

In the month of May, as India saw a surge in Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package for the economic revival of the country. The package was worth Rs. 20 lakh crore and announced in five tranches by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. However, various publications like India Today cited experts who said that out of the Rs. 20 lakh crores, only Rs. 70,000 crore was fresh money and the rest was already provisioned for in the Union Budget.

The announcement of the package came two months after India was in the throes of the pandemic, with its underprivileged population, especially the migrants, being hit hard by it. Overnight, people lost their jobs and their homes and daily wagers didn’t know where to get their next meal from. Due to this, scores of migrants started walking back to their native villages, thousands of kilometers away, on foot and some met with an unfortunate fate after they died in accidents or due to hunger and exhaustion.

The economic package received a lot of criticism with it being a ‘jugglery of numbers’ by activists and the Opposition who pointed out that the package did nothing to address the current concerns of farmers and migrants. Echoing a similar sentiment, the concerned citizenry of Kerala including prominent persons like Advocate George Pulikuthiyil, Dr. Jyothi Krishnan, Prof. T R Venugopalan, Dr. J Devika and Prof MK Sanu among others issued a collective response in a letter dated May 28 which said, “The corona revival package for 20 lakhs crores announced by the government of India at a time when the country is stagnant politically, socially as well as mentally due to the miseries and sufferings that the pandemic created, is a national betrayal and political hypocrisy.” The letter read that on the pretext of Rs. 20 lakh crore, the government provided a benefit of less than Rs. 1.5 lakh crore to the 40 crore people who were struggling to make ends meet.

They said that instead of providing stimulus to the hapless and weak, the Prime Minister opened up strong assets of the nation – defence, space and coal, to the corporate sector adding that there were no programs in the package to increase and stabilize the purchasing power of the people who lived in the margins of shining India and whose liquidity eroded fully due to the continuous and unexpected lockdown. They wrote that the reforms and economic systems announced in the package called for democratic discussion and legislation, but were instead imposed on the people – an act that wasn’t only alarming but also undemocratic and despotic.

In their letter they alleged that through the package, strategic sectors were being opened up to private companies owned by the Ambanis and Adanis and that with the announcement, the withdrawal of the public sector from strategic and core areas which started in the nineties, had now been completed.

Most importantly, the signatories stated, was the nullification of the Essential Commodities Act which regulated the price and distribution of essential commodities like food products. “With this step the Modi government issued full license to harvest the gains of the Indian peasants at a cheap rate and to hoard it as he liked,” they said. They added, “Modi Government has owed the big corporate and publicly declared unqualified support to them by suspending the existing labour laws in the Country. This act of treachery of workers will invite international consequences.”

It must be noted that during the lockdown, the supply chain took a hit with transport being shut apart from people being asked to stay at home. As migrants returned home, there were very few left in the cities to man factories and other operations like the transportation of grains. Farmers had to pay more for pesticides and seeds, take multiple trips to mandis and sell fares below the Minimum Support Price (MSP) especially if they were selling perishable crops.

Labour laws were diluted too, with job losses, non-payment of wages from companies and state governments increasing the number of work hours, reducing breaks and not offering enough compensation for extra hours – all citing shortage of labour.

In their letter, the prominent citizens of Kerala demanded that the PM make it clear on whose prescription the package was announced at the time of the national lockdown when people were helpless to protest and react. They said, “We demand the withdrawal of this anti people package and give shape to a programme which will help to increase the purchasing power of the people. We remind the democratic forces of the country to take up the issue openly and build up resistance against this. We believe they will do their duty. A strong public opinion and hectic resistance against this anti people package is the need of the hour.”

The entire copy of the letter may be read below.

 

Related:

New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) demands that governments retract changes in labour laws

India needs a stimulus package to fight the COVID-19 Economic battle

20 lakh crore package just “jugglery of figures”: AITUC

Concerned citizenry of Kerala call the Rs. 20 lakh crore package a “colossal betrayal”

They demanded that the PM withdraw the anti-people package and work to increase purchasing power of the people

sitharaman

In the month of May, as India saw a surge in Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package for the economic revival of the country. The package was worth Rs. 20 lakh crore and announced in five tranches by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. However, various publications like India Today cited experts who said that out of the Rs. 20 lakh crores, only Rs. 70,000 crore was fresh money and the rest was already provisioned for in the Union Budget.

The announcement of the package came two months after India was in the throes of the pandemic, with its underprivileged population, especially the migrants, being hit hard by it. Overnight, people lost their jobs and their homes and daily wagers didn’t know where to get their next meal from. Due to this, scores of migrants started walking back to their native villages, thousands of kilometers away, on foot and some met with an unfortunate fate after they died in accidents or due to hunger and exhaustion.

The economic package received a lot of criticism with it being a ‘jugglery of numbers’ by activists and the Opposition who pointed out that the package did nothing to address the current concerns of farmers and migrants. Echoing a similar sentiment, the concerned citizenry of Kerala including prominent persons like Advocate George Pulikuthiyil, Dr. Jyothi Krishnan, Prof. T R Venugopalan, Dr. J Devika and Prof MK Sanu among others issued a collective response in a letter dated May 28 which said, “The corona revival package for 20 lakhs crores announced by the government of India at a time when the country is stagnant politically, socially as well as mentally due to the miseries and sufferings that the pandemic created, is a national betrayal and political hypocrisy.” The letter read that on the pretext of Rs. 20 lakh crore, the government provided a benefit of less than Rs. 1.5 lakh crore to the 40 crore people who were struggling to make ends meet.

They said that instead of providing stimulus to the hapless and weak, the Prime Minister opened up strong assets of the nation – defence, space and coal, to the corporate sector adding that there were no programs in the package to increase and stabilize the purchasing power of the people who lived in the margins of shining India and whose liquidity eroded fully due to the continuous and unexpected lockdown. They wrote that the reforms and economic systems announced in the package called for democratic discussion and legislation, but were instead imposed on the people – an act that wasn’t only alarming but also undemocratic and despotic.

In their letter they alleged that through the package, strategic sectors were being opened up to private companies owned by the Ambanis and Adanis and that with the announcement, the withdrawal of the public sector from strategic and core areas which started in the nineties, had now been completed.

Most importantly, the signatories stated, was the nullification of the Essential Commodities Act which regulated the price and distribution of essential commodities like food products. “With this step the Modi government issued full license to harvest the gains of the Indian peasants at a cheap rate and to hoard it as he liked,” they said. They added, “Modi Government has owed the big corporate and publicly declared unqualified support to them by suspending the existing labour laws in the Country. This act of treachery of workers will invite international consequences.”

It must be noted that during the lockdown, the supply chain took a hit with transport being shut apart from people being asked to stay at home. As migrants returned home, there were very few left in the cities to man factories and other operations like the transportation of grains. Farmers had to pay more for pesticides and seeds, take multiple trips to mandis and sell fares below the Minimum Support Price (MSP) especially if they were selling perishable crops.

Labour laws were diluted too, with job losses, non-payment of wages from companies and state governments increasing the number of work hours, reducing breaks and not offering enough compensation for extra hours – all citing shortage of labour.

In their letter, the prominent citizens of Kerala demanded that the PM make it clear on whose prescription the package was announced at the time of the national lockdown when people were helpless to protest and react. They said, “We demand the withdrawal of this anti people package and give shape to a programme which will help to increase the purchasing power of the people. We remind the democratic forces of the country to take up the issue openly and build up resistance against this. We believe they will do their duty. A strong public opinion and hectic resistance against this anti people package is the need of the hour.”

The entire copy of the letter may be read below.

 

Related:

New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) demands that governments retract changes in labour laws

India needs a stimulus package to fight the COVID-19 Economic battle

20 lakh crore package just “jugglery of figures”: AITUC

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When will we learn our lessons from previous pandemics?

Some lessons from three epidemics of Modern India: 1896-97, 1918-20 & 2020

01 Jun 2020

Pandemic
Image: AP Photo/National Museum of Health.


Why do we know very little about the three epidemics of modern India? Why do we avoid putting the histories of the origin, spread, human sufferings, administrative response, mis-prioritised attention of scientific research to the issue, into our syllabi? So much so that even the Masters courses in the best departments of History in our premier universities largely avoid offering courses (or topics in a course) on this particular theme. Our history textbooks barely mention these calamities, if at all, in just in few words. Even research on such themes are either inadequate, or, these have not transcended select highly micro-specialised academic spaces. Why have we not been letting such studies enter the popular, public domain?

A cursory look into some studies on this subject clearly suggest that there have been essential eerie similarities in the regrettable anti-people response of the ruling elites to all three epidemics of modern Indian history.  

What we continue to do is something we have done all along, hiding many truths from vast sections of our people, those that pertain to some specific issue of human miseries. Just as other exclusions and silences, the politics of the dominant plays a specific role even in determining contents and priorities of education, curricula, syllabi, etc.

It is a select section of people who undertake global travels for their respective professions (traders, high ranking officers and defence personnel) who ‘import’ such infectious diseases and spread these into India. This is exactly what had happened in Bombay in 1896. Yet, they succeeded in spreading widespread public opinion that it was the slum dwellers of the ghettos that were the causes of the origin of the epidemic. Consequently, the concentration of policing, its surveillance and repression was among the poor and labouring classes of Bombay. Thus, this questionable and elitist politics of blaming those among marginalised sections and classes was in play in 1896-97 as well. It is the same pattern that has been manifest today, close to a century later, in 2020!  The manner in which those who work in the informal sector, on daily wages, were disallowed the choice of leaving for their homes when the lockdown was announced all of a sudden. An ultimatum of less than four hours was given to the country, a decision that particularly affected these people. Even in terms of facilities in the quarantine centres, our class based discrimination has been manifest, albeit in a bizarre manner.

Historian Mridula Ramanna’s essay (2003), “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20: The Bombay Experience”, published in an anthology is really quite an eye opener. Added to this is  another useful reference, the speech delivered by the Darbhanga Maharaj Lakshmishwar Singh, in the legislative council (Calcutta) when the bill for the Epidemic Act 1897 was being debated. Just a few months ago, historian David Arnold has also published an essay (2019) pertaining to the epidemic of 1918-20. We need to look into all these.

Whatever little reference to the 1896 epidemic we get in our books, tells us very little about human sufferings. What we study and teach our undergraduate students skips the narrative of widespread human misery. Dealing with this period we shift easily to the Chapekar brothers, who went on to kill two British officers, Rand and Ayerst. During the trial, it was then alleged that the speeches and writings of Bal Gangadhar Tilak had provided the incitement or provocation to them to kill the officers. Subsequently, section 124 A of the notorious Sedition Act 1870 was invoked against Tilak to penalise him. With this reference, our textbooks go on to describe the violent, extremist and right wing majoritarian shift in one of the trends of anti-colonial nationalism. This is arguably another version of popular jingoism that succeeds in excluding narratives of widespread human miseries experienced by thousands of Indians caused by the 1896 epimedic.

Arguably, the fashioning of different variants of nationalism also avoided discussing widespread miseries caused by these epidemics. Can any brand of nationalism really afford to avoid or ignore people’s sufferings?  This is another variety of exclusion and discrimination that our views on nationalism have been perpetrating. It has cost us heavily in the past. It also has a price being paid by large sections of Indians today.

It was in September 1896 that the first patient of plague in Bombay was detected. By February 1897, lakhs of people had out-migrated from Bombay to their respective villages and towns. At that time, this was possibly half of the Bombay population. It is said that the disease had come from Hong Kong and China. About two thousand people were dying each week in Bombay. The British administration was unnerved and had employed all its strength in containing the spread of the epidemic, particularly not letting it reach Calcutta. All in all, there are very inadequate sources or documents readily available for historians to write much about this. We cannot ascertain as to how many people actually died during their travel to homes. With historical commonsense we can however confidently conclude, and quantify that casualties were far higher than what is shown in official records.

The Epidemic Act, 1897 was more about how to prevent such epidemics in future and had little to do with how to tackle the moment. Those having access to the Darbhanga Raj Archives, tell me that the maharaj offered Rs 7000 to the Calcutta University to undertake research on finding medicine or vaccine for the disease. The follow up on this endowment fund is not known to the (presently) surviving descendants of the maharaj. One doesn’t know what does survive in the records of the Calcutta University about this? Inferring from here, do we see in 2020, any big business house coming out to offer such endowment for this purpose, except the offer made by the pharmaceutical firm, CIPLA (of Khwaja Yusuf Hamied; founded in 1935 by his father, a Gandhian, Khwaja Abdul Hamied), which is well known for producing low cost medicines?   

In 1896-97, there were complaints about Police-raids and, house-searches, and their misbehaviour against the women. These were precisely also the grievances of the Chapekar Brothers.

Ramanna tells us that on June 19, 2018, seven police sepoys were first of all found to have been infected with the Influenza in Bombay. From September 1918, it began to spread on a much wider scale. Malnourished women and children were more prone to infections and death. Gandhiji in Gujarat was infected and remained ill for a long spell. Premchand also got infected and many family members of Suryakant Tripathi Nirala (1896-1961) succumbed to Inflenza-casued deaths, which he has recorded in his autobiography in Hindi.

We should keep in mind that in 1918, antibiotics had not been discovered, which treatment has a central significance in modern-day allopathy. Both David Arnold and Mridula Ramanna tell us that the British Indian administration was more concerned about counting the numbers of affected people and entering them in records, kept issuing advisories on how people should prefer living and sleeping out in the open rather than in herding together! These advisories were issued as “memorandums”. Today in 2020, we call such advisories “notification”! In the past two months (April-May 2020), the number of government notifications is close tot 4,000. If we study these notifications carefully, we find that one notification often contradicts the other. There are confusions, and clear signs of a policy paralysis. Yet, despite such situations of human miseries, the governments in Hong Kong as well as in India have shown their promptness in putting pro-democracy critics of the regime behind bars invoking the harshest possible repressive laws.

Lessons learnt? Through the course of a century, we have not changed much in terms of dealing with pandemics. This mocks the popular saying, ‘change is the only permanent thing’.

Many British officers had themselves gone off to the salubrious climate at India’s hill stations from which locations they issued racist and often contemptuous statements! These included questonable remarks on how ‘Indians living in dirty ghettos (were) making themselves prone to the disease.’ Refuge in hill stations and running away from handling the crisis seems to have been a pattern. In 1946-47, when Bihar was aflame with unprecedented communal violence, the Governor, Sir Henry Dow had also, then, run away to Shimla.

In 1918, the British government had closed cinema halls, schools, colleges for about two months in both Bombay and Karachi. They kept advising people to remain fit and healthy and to spray disinfectants. Now imagine, in the India of 1918, how many people could have afforded and could have succeeded in obtaining disinfectants!

During that time, that too very sparingly, perhaps only once, did the Times of India and a few vernacular newspapers muster the courage of subjecting the British government to criticism: to raise the demand for making disinfectants etc available for the people. Otherwise, over all, there was an absence of voices holding the regime accountable. Thus, on this count as well, republican India of 2020 is hardly different from the colonial India of 1918.

The British government too made unsubstantiated claims of releasing lakhs of rupees for the people. Evidence suggests that not much reached people. Today’s experience suggests that quite often, such packages are more to provide for administrative loot and less to ecutally enable people’s relief. A popularly held cynical belief is: what is a calamity in which the bureaucracy and politicians don’t find opportunity to loot public fund!

At the level of policy formulation, there was confusion and inconsistency, then. Two officers, Hutchinson and Turner, kept exchanging conflicting views (and making arguments) on the origin of the pandemic. In the India of 2020, too, we see that more attention has been paid to putting the blame on a particular community, India’s Muslims, already marginalised and oppressed. This politics of diverting people’s attention was at play at that time too, despite the fact that, given the level of consciousness, masses were then more prone to see it as a natural calamity rather than haul up the regime of the day on their handling of the situation.

An example: A Bijapur jailor had asked for instructions on infected inmates. He received no response. And they continued to infect more of the prisoners. The Economy was in doldrums, yet, we hardly see popularised studies on the economic impact. The central government allowed the use of traditional medicines (Ayurved and Unani), but, on the pretext of the Bombay Medical Act 1912, the provisional provincial regimes did not allow the use of medicines other than allopathy. Thus an apathy was perpetuated. Only the caste and community based volunteer organizations were able to provide some relief to the affected populations.

Yet, even after a century and more, we have not been able to learn a lesson and evolve a robust public health system. In the India of today, we have seen that those states like Kerala, having a better public health system, have been able to deal with the crisis in a better way.

Chomsky and Harari, in their recent columns and essays on the pandemic, have explained that scientific research in recent decades has been concentrated on the medicines for cardiac diseases, on lung and liver ailments and on cancer, in which the pharma capital lobbies minted millions. The cost of production of such medicines is low, the cost passed on to patients very high.  The manufacture of both the stent (and angioplasty) is one such pro elite mega scam in the health sector.  In contrast, as Chomsky and others argue, research on vaccines for epidemics just do not get the requisite funds of reserach attention.The politics and priority of medical research should be the subject matter of Indian political and policy debate! Questions need to be asked. Why are vaccines for afflictions like polio and epidemics the sole responsibilities of governments and of the WHO-UNO, whereas private capital extracts money from people only on other medicines?Do we not need to launch a huge mass awareness and mobilisation on these horrific anomalies?

During the 1918-20 pandemic, the repressive Rowlatt Act (1918) was enacyed and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (April 13, 1919) was perpetrated. Just as in 2020, the Delhi communal violence and arrests of pro-democracy students, activists, intellectuals are underway. Shall we continue to remain immersed in the politics of hatred? Or shall we togethert launch a mass movement demanding better public health?

Neglect by Litterateurs 

Besides our historians and economists, our litterateurs have also paid little attention to pandemic and human miseries. Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915-1984) was a towering Urdu story writer; widely read and well-received within Bollywood as well. His Urdu story “Quarantine”, remained least read. So was the attendant negligence of literary critics. Even in the life-writings and reportage of such perosnalities, we hardly see references of such accounts. Even in the developed world, we hardly get much of such accounts, except the novel, “Plague” (1945) of Camus. Has this novel got enough of attention?

John M Barry’s book (2006), The Great Influenza, is an eye opener. A reading tells us that the book is based more on oral accounts as very little wriiten documentation is available. It is clear also that the Americans, dominant in world politics by then, preferred to hide and downplay the pandemic of 1918-20. The facts were revealed by Spain, hence the name, Spanish Flu, whereas it had acutually originated from within the barracks of the US navy at Kansas. Barry says that sharing the truth about the pandemic is the first prerequisite before tackling or handling it. The second prerequisite is for those in power to obtain confidence and trust of the people. He says,

 “The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that ...those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best a leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart”     

Amit Kapur’s book, Riding the Tiger, cursorily refers to the economic depression after 1918. Inflation had skyrocketed and GDP was down to a negative 11%. Thus, even economists have not made such studies and assessments as popular as they should.  Just as the incumbent regime in 2020 did not consult the state governments while issuing diktats of the first lockdown, the colonial regime in 1896 had not consulted the Calcutta Municipality. The Darbhanga Maharaj had protested against this call. He had also warned the regime that administrative high handedness will be counterproductive.

We don’t seem to have learnt lessons from history.

David Arnold’s essay (2019), “Death and the Modern Empire: The 1918-19 Influenza Epidemic in India” reveals that no other country in the world suffered as many deaths as did India in 1918-20. Government documents, newspapers, memoirs, correspondences, and even obituaries of the day, don’t record much about inflation, food scarcity, and famine like situation. Arnold says that more than the epidemic death, people were concerned about hunger, whereas, the regime was attempting more to put the blame on sections of population. Thus, Arnold concludes, the epidemic of 1918 remains almost as a forgotten one. 

The kind of anti-intellectual ambience that has been created in recent years has contributed to the present malaise. Our historians, economists, health scientists, journalists need to pay attention to such dimensions of history --human miseries-- so that intellectuals are able to regain people’s trust. This trust-deficit seems to have pushed the sections of today’s popular news media Rightward. More worrisome than that, even the judiciary also appears to be slipping.

Saumya Saxena in her essay (2018) warns us about this: “This therefore cannot be written off simply as an unholy alliance between political parties and courts, or a compromise on the separation of powers because the concern here is not with judicial overreach or compromise, but the slippery slope that the Hindutva judgments enabled of campaigning through courts”. Saxena says this even without taking into account certain alarming judicial verdicts on many crucial issues subsequent to 2018. The judiciary seems to be ignoring what the Supreme Court noted in the State of Madras vs V G Row (1952) that the judiciary has to play the role of “a sentinel on the qui vive”—an eternally vigilant institution.     

We have to wake up, learning from the history of the three epidemics of modern India.

(The author teaches at Centre of Advanced Study –CA-) in History, AMU, Aligarh, India)

 

Books:

1. Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours, Routledge (Taylor Francis), London/Delhi, 2014/2018 (Reprint).

2. Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857. Primus (Ratnasagar), Delhi, 2014.

When will we learn our lessons from previous pandemics?

Some lessons from three epidemics of Modern India: 1896-97, 1918-20 & 2020

Pandemic
Image: AP Photo/National Museum of Health.


Why do we know very little about the three epidemics of modern India? Why do we avoid putting the histories of the origin, spread, human sufferings, administrative response, mis-prioritised attention of scientific research to the issue, into our syllabi? So much so that even the Masters courses in the best departments of History in our premier universities largely avoid offering courses (or topics in a course) on this particular theme. Our history textbooks barely mention these calamities, if at all, in just in few words. Even research on such themes are either inadequate, or, these have not transcended select highly micro-specialised academic spaces. Why have we not been letting such studies enter the popular, public domain?

A cursory look into some studies on this subject clearly suggest that there have been essential eerie similarities in the regrettable anti-people response of the ruling elites to all three epidemics of modern Indian history.  

What we continue to do is something we have done all along, hiding many truths from vast sections of our people, those that pertain to some specific issue of human miseries. Just as other exclusions and silences, the politics of the dominant plays a specific role even in determining contents and priorities of education, curricula, syllabi, etc.

It is a select section of people who undertake global travels for their respective professions (traders, high ranking officers and defence personnel) who ‘import’ such infectious diseases and spread these into India. This is exactly what had happened in Bombay in 1896. Yet, they succeeded in spreading widespread public opinion that it was the slum dwellers of the ghettos that were the causes of the origin of the epidemic. Consequently, the concentration of policing, its surveillance and repression was among the poor and labouring classes of Bombay. Thus, this questionable and elitist politics of blaming those among marginalised sections and classes was in play in 1896-97 as well. It is the same pattern that has been manifest today, close to a century later, in 2020!  The manner in which those who work in the informal sector, on daily wages, were disallowed the choice of leaving for their homes when the lockdown was announced all of a sudden. An ultimatum of less than four hours was given to the country, a decision that particularly affected these people. Even in terms of facilities in the quarantine centres, our class based discrimination has been manifest, albeit in a bizarre manner.

Historian Mridula Ramanna’s essay (2003), “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20: The Bombay Experience”, published in an anthology is really quite an eye opener. Added to this is  another useful reference, the speech delivered by the Darbhanga Maharaj Lakshmishwar Singh, in the legislative council (Calcutta) when the bill for the Epidemic Act 1897 was being debated. Just a few months ago, historian David Arnold has also published an essay (2019) pertaining to the epidemic of 1918-20. We need to look into all these.

Whatever little reference to the 1896 epidemic we get in our books, tells us very little about human sufferings. What we study and teach our undergraduate students skips the narrative of widespread human misery. Dealing with this period we shift easily to the Chapekar brothers, who went on to kill two British officers, Rand and Ayerst. During the trial, it was then alleged that the speeches and writings of Bal Gangadhar Tilak had provided the incitement or provocation to them to kill the officers. Subsequently, section 124 A of the notorious Sedition Act 1870 was invoked against Tilak to penalise him. With this reference, our textbooks go on to describe the violent, extremist and right wing majoritarian shift in one of the trends of anti-colonial nationalism. This is arguably another version of popular jingoism that succeeds in excluding narratives of widespread human miseries experienced by thousands of Indians caused by the 1896 epimedic.

Arguably, the fashioning of different variants of nationalism also avoided discussing widespread miseries caused by these epidemics. Can any brand of nationalism really afford to avoid or ignore people’s sufferings?  This is another variety of exclusion and discrimination that our views on nationalism have been perpetrating. It has cost us heavily in the past. It also has a price being paid by large sections of Indians today.

It was in September 1896 that the first patient of plague in Bombay was detected. By February 1897, lakhs of people had out-migrated from Bombay to their respective villages and towns. At that time, this was possibly half of the Bombay population. It is said that the disease had come from Hong Kong and China. About two thousand people were dying each week in Bombay. The British administration was unnerved and had employed all its strength in containing the spread of the epidemic, particularly not letting it reach Calcutta. All in all, there are very inadequate sources or documents readily available for historians to write much about this. We cannot ascertain as to how many people actually died during their travel to homes. With historical commonsense we can however confidently conclude, and quantify that casualties were far higher than what is shown in official records.

The Epidemic Act, 1897 was more about how to prevent such epidemics in future and had little to do with how to tackle the moment. Those having access to the Darbhanga Raj Archives, tell me that the maharaj offered Rs 7000 to the Calcutta University to undertake research on finding medicine or vaccine for the disease. The follow up on this endowment fund is not known to the (presently) surviving descendants of the maharaj. One doesn’t know what does survive in the records of the Calcutta University about this? Inferring from here, do we see in 2020, any big business house coming out to offer such endowment for this purpose, except the offer made by the pharmaceutical firm, CIPLA (of Khwaja Yusuf Hamied; founded in 1935 by his father, a Gandhian, Khwaja Abdul Hamied), which is well known for producing low cost medicines?   

In 1896-97, there were complaints about Police-raids and, house-searches, and their misbehaviour against the women. These were precisely also the grievances of the Chapekar Brothers.

Ramanna tells us that on June 19, 2018, seven police sepoys were first of all found to have been infected with the Influenza in Bombay. From September 1918, it began to spread on a much wider scale. Malnourished women and children were more prone to infections and death. Gandhiji in Gujarat was infected and remained ill for a long spell. Premchand also got infected and many family members of Suryakant Tripathi Nirala (1896-1961) succumbed to Inflenza-casued deaths, which he has recorded in his autobiography in Hindi.

We should keep in mind that in 1918, antibiotics had not been discovered, which treatment has a central significance in modern-day allopathy. Both David Arnold and Mridula Ramanna tell us that the British Indian administration was more concerned about counting the numbers of affected people and entering them in records, kept issuing advisories on how people should prefer living and sleeping out in the open rather than in herding together! These advisories were issued as “memorandums”. Today in 2020, we call such advisories “notification”! In the past two months (April-May 2020), the number of government notifications is close tot 4,000. If we study these notifications carefully, we find that one notification often contradicts the other. There are confusions, and clear signs of a policy paralysis. Yet, despite such situations of human miseries, the governments in Hong Kong as well as in India have shown their promptness in putting pro-democracy critics of the regime behind bars invoking the harshest possible repressive laws.

Lessons learnt? Through the course of a century, we have not changed much in terms of dealing with pandemics. This mocks the popular saying, ‘change is the only permanent thing’.

Many British officers had themselves gone off to the salubrious climate at India’s hill stations from which locations they issued racist and often contemptuous statements! These included questonable remarks on how ‘Indians living in dirty ghettos (were) making themselves prone to the disease.’ Refuge in hill stations and running away from handling the crisis seems to have been a pattern. In 1946-47, when Bihar was aflame with unprecedented communal violence, the Governor, Sir Henry Dow had also, then, run away to Shimla.

In 1918, the British government had closed cinema halls, schools, colleges for about two months in both Bombay and Karachi. They kept advising people to remain fit and healthy and to spray disinfectants. Now imagine, in the India of 1918, how many people could have afforded and could have succeeded in obtaining disinfectants!

During that time, that too very sparingly, perhaps only once, did the Times of India and a few vernacular newspapers muster the courage of subjecting the British government to criticism: to raise the demand for making disinfectants etc available for the people. Otherwise, over all, there was an absence of voices holding the regime accountable. Thus, on this count as well, republican India of 2020 is hardly different from the colonial India of 1918.

The British government too made unsubstantiated claims of releasing lakhs of rupees for the people. Evidence suggests that not much reached people. Today’s experience suggests that quite often, such packages are more to provide for administrative loot and less to ecutally enable people’s relief. A popularly held cynical belief is: what is a calamity in which the bureaucracy and politicians don’t find opportunity to loot public fund!

At the level of policy formulation, there was confusion and inconsistency, then. Two officers, Hutchinson and Turner, kept exchanging conflicting views (and making arguments) on the origin of the pandemic. In the India of 2020, too, we see that more attention has been paid to putting the blame on a particular community, India’s Muslims, already marginalised and oppressed. This politics of diverting people’s attention was at play at that time too, despite the fact that, given the level of consciousness, masses were then more prone to see it as a natural calamity rather than haul up the regime of the day on their handling of the situation.

An example: A Bijapur jailor had asked for instructions on infected inmates. He received no response. And they continued to infect more of the prisoners. The Economy was in doldrums, yet, we hardly see popularised studies on the economic impact. The central government allowed the use of traditional medicines (Ayurved and Unani), but, on the pretext of the Bombay Medical Act 1912, the provisional provincial regimes did not allow the use of medicines other than allopathy. Thus an apathy was perpetuated. Only the caste and community based volunteer organizations were able to provide some relief to the affected populations.

Yet, even after a century and more, we have not been able to learn a lesson and evolve a robust public health system. In the India of today, we have seen that those states like Kerala, having a better public health system, have been able to deal with the crisis in a better way.

Chomsky and Harari, in their recent columns and essays on the pandemic, have explained that scientific research in recent decades has been concentrated on the medicines for cardiac diseases, on lung and liver ailments and on cancer, in which the pharma capital lobbies minted millions. The cost of production of such medicines is low, the cost passed on to patients very high.  The manufacture of both the stent (and angioplasty) is one such pro elite mega scam in the health sector.  In contrast, as Chomsky and others argue, research on vaccines for epidemics just do not get the requisite funds of reserach attention.The politics and priority of medical research should be the subject matter of Indian political and policy debate! Questions need to be asked. Why are vaccines for afflictions like polio and epidemics the sole responsibilities of governments and of the WHO-UNO, whereas private capital extracts money from people only on other medicines?Do we not need to launch a huge mass awareness and mobilisation on these horrific anomalies?

During the 1918-20 pandemic, the repressive Rowlatt Act (1918) was enacyed and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (April 13, 1919) was perpetrated. Just as in 2020, the Delhi communal violence and arrests of pro-democracy students, activists, intellectuals are underway. Shall we continue to remain immersed in the politics of hatred? Or shall we togethert launch a mass movement demanding better public health?

Neglect by Litterateurs 

Besides our historians and economists, our litterateurs have also paid little attention to pandemic and human miseries. Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915-1984) was a towering Urdu story writer; widely read and well-received within Bollywood as well. His Urdu story “Quarantine”, remained least read. So was the attendant negligence of literary critics. Even in the life-writings and reportage of such perosnalities, we hardly see references of such accounts. Even in the developed world, we hardly get much of such accounts, except the novel, “Plague” (1945) of Camus. Has this novel got enough of attention?

John M Barry’s book (2006), The Great Influenza, is an eye opener. A reading tells us that the book is based more on oral accounts as very little wriiten documentation is available. It is clear also that the Americans, dominant in world politics by then, preferred to hide and downplay the pandemic of 1918-20. The facts were revealed by Spain, hence the name, Spanish Flu, whereas it had acutually originated from within the barracks of the US navy at Kansas. Barry says that sharing the truth about the pandemic is the first prerequisite before tackling or handling it. The second prerequisite is for those in power to obtain confidence and trust of the people. He says,

 “The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that ...those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best a leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart”     

Amit Kapur’s book, Riding the Tiger, cursorily refers to the economic depression after 1918. Inflation had skyrocketed and GDP was down to a negative 11%. Thus, even economists have not made such studies and assessments as popular as they should.  Just as the incumbent regime in 2020 did not consult the state governments while issuing diktats of the first lockdown, the colonial regime in 1896 had not consulted the Calcutta Municipality. The Darbhanga Maharaj had protested against this call. He had also warned the regime that administrative high handedness will be counterproductive.

We don’t seem to have learnt lessons from history.

David Arnold’s essay (2019), “Death and the Modern Empire: The 1918-19 Influenza Epidemic in India” reveals that no other country in the world suffered as many deaths as did India in 1918-20. Government documents, newspapers, memoirs, correspondences, and even obituaries of the day, don’t record much about inflation, food scarcity, and famine like situation. Arnold says that more than the epidemic death, people were concerned about hunger, whereas, the regime was attempting more to put the blame on sections of population. Thus, Arnold concludes, the epidemic of 1918 remains almost as a forgotten one. 

The kind of anti-intellectual ambience that has been created in recent years has contributed to the present malaise. Our historians, economists, health scientists, journalists need to pay attention to such dimensions of history --human miseries-- so that intellectuals are able to regain people’s trust. This trust-deficit seems to have pushed the sections of today’s popular news media Rightward. More worrisome than that, even the judiciary also appears to be slipping.

Saumya Saxena in her essay (2018) warns us about this: “This therefore cannot be written off simply as an unholy alliance between political parties and courts, or a compromise on the separation of powers because the concern here is not with judicial overreach or compromise, but the slippery slope that the Hindutva judgments enabled of campaigning through courts”. Saxena says this even without taking into account certain alarming judicial verdicts on many crucial issues subsequent to 2018. The judiciary seems to be ignoring what the Supreme Court noted in the State of Madras vs V G Row (1952) that the judiciary has to play the role of “a sentinel on the qui vive”—an eternally vigilant institution.     

We have to wake up, learning from the history of the three epidemics of modern India.

(The author teaches at Centre of Advanced Study –CA-) in History, AMU, Aligarh, India)

 

Books:

1. Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours, Routledge (Taylor Francis), London/Delhi, 2014/2018 (Reprint).

2. Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857. Primus (Ratnasagar), Delhi, 2014.

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Guj HC cautions against politicising Covid crisis

Says had the state government not done anything “then probably, by now, we all would have been dead.”

01 Jun 2020

Gujarat HC

In a marked departure from its previous scathing order of May 22, where it had compared the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital to a dungeon, the Gujarat High Court appears to have softened its stand on the state administration’s efforts to control the pandemic.

In its order dated May 29, the court has said, “All those who cannot extend their helping hand in this difficult times (sic) and do anything good for the people at large have no right to criticize the functioning of the State Government. If the State Government would not have been doing anything, as alleged, then probably, by now, we all would have been dead.”

The court also expressed dismay at how its previous orders were “being misused for some oblique motive.” The court said, “In our opinion, the Public Interest Litigation is meant for the benefit of the lost and lonely and it is meant for the benefit of those whose social backwardness is the reason for no access to the Court. We also say that the PILs are not meant   to   advance   the   political   gain   and   also   to   seek   any   political mileage. The Public Interest Litigation should never be made a political battle.”

Elaborating further on the subject of politicisation of the pandemic the court said, “In times of crisis, we need to bind, not bicker. The COVID 19 crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political crisis. Hence, it is imperative that no one politicise this issue.”

The Gujarat government is facing serious flak for mismanagement of the crisis and multiple petitions have been filed against it. And while the HC had previously taken the state government to task, in its latest order shown greater compassion to the state government. It said, “Merely criticising the government in power is not going to magically cure people of COVID 19, nor is it going to to make the dead come back to life. (sic)” It added, “Simply highlighting the flaws and gaps in the State’s handling of the situation only creates fear in the minds of people.”

However, the court did not let the state government completely off the hook. On the subject of the facilities at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, the HC said, “We would still like to keep a close watch of the functioning of the Civil Hospital and if we are not satisfied with the same, then we may have to take some further steps in accordance with law.”

The court also directed the State Government to concentrate on the following issues to maintain the level of administration and functioning of the Civil Hospital in the interest of the patients and the specialists, doctors, paramedical and all others serving at the Civil Hospital.

[1] There should be no shortage of manpower in all categories: specialists, doctors, nurses, servants, technicians, physiotherapists etc;

[2] The patients admitted in the COVID Hospitals are demanding attention and care in terms of the medical care protocols required for proper treatment. There are different medical protocols for different categories of patients. There could be severely symptomatic patients, there could be moderately symptomatic patients and there could be mild symptomatic patients and for each of the categories of such patients, the protocols to be followed are different. It is alleged that the medical protocols required for different categories of patients are not being strictly followed.

[3] There is another circumstance which relates to the COVID patients. No Attendants are allowed to assist and take care of the patients. Normally admitted non­COVID patients are allowed one attendant who takes care of their hygiene, their food, their daily necessities. However, for COVID patients, such care is to be taken by the Nurses, attendants and other staff of the hospitals.

[4] Although not confirmed, but, there are reports both in the print and digital medias that the COVID patients have lost their lives on account of proper care and attention not being provided to   them. It has also come to our knowledge on account of dehydration and other negligence, COVID patients have lost their lives.

[5] There are also reports that necessary precaution are (sic) not being taken for the attending doctors and staff in terms of providing essential protective gadgets, consumables, PPE kits, etc. They cannot be put to risk under any circumstances.

The entire order may be read here: 

 

Related:

Ahmedabad Civil Hospital “as good as a dungeon”: Guj HC slams state gov’t

Is it enough to be ‘not as bad as Italy or France’?

Guj HC cautions against politicising Covid crisis

Says had the state government not done anything “then probably, by now, we all would have been dead.”

Gujarat HC

In a marked departure from its previous scathing order of May 22, where it had compared the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital to a dungeon, the Gujarat High Court appears to have softened its stand on the state administration’s efforts to control the pandemic.

In its order dated May 29, the court has said, “All those who cannot extend their helping hand in this difficult times (sic) and do anything good for the people at large have no right to criticize the functioning of the State Government. If the State Government would not have been doing anything, as alleged, then probably, by now, we all would have been dead.”

The court also expressed dismay at how its previous orders were “being misused for some oblique motive.” The court said, “In our opinion, the Public Interest Litigation is meant for the benefit of the lost and lonely and it is meant for the benefit of those whose social backwardness is the reason for no access to the Court. We also say that the PILs are not meant   to   advance   the   political   gain   and   also   to   seek   any   political mileage. The Public Interest Litigation should never be made a political battle.”

Elaborating further on the subject of politicisation of the pandemic the court said, “In times of crisis, we need to bind, not bicker. The COVID 19 crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political crisis. Hence, it is imperative that no one politicise this issue.”

The Gujarat government is facing serious flak for mismanagement of the crisis and multiple petitions have been filed against it. And while the HC had previously taken the state government to task, in its latest order shown greater compassion to the state government. It said, “Merely criticising the government in power is not going to magically cure people of COVID 19, nor is it going to to make the dead come back to life. (sic)” It added, “Simply highlighting the flaws and gaps in the State’s handling of the situation only creates fear in the minds of people.”

However, the court did not let the state government completely off the hook. On the subject of the facilities at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, the HC said, “We would still like to keep a close watch of the functioning of the Civil Hospital and if we are not satisfied with the same, then we may have to take some further steps in accordance with law.”

The court also directed the State Government to concentrate on the following issues to maintain the level of administration and functioning of the Civil Hospital in the interest of the patients and the specialists, doctors, paramedical and all others serving at the Civil Hospital.

[1] There should be no shortage of manpower in all categories: specialists, doctors, nurses, servants, technicians, physiotherapists etc;

[2] The patients admitted in the COVID Hospitals are demanding attention and care in terms of the medical care protocols required for proper treatment. There are different medical protocols for different categories of patients. There could be severely symptomatic patients, there could be moderately symptomatic patients and there could be mild symptomatic patients and for each of the categories of such patients, the protocols to be followed are different. It is alleged that the medical protocols required for different categories of patients are not being strictly followed.

[3] There is another circumstance which relates to the COVID patients. No Attendants are allowed to assist and take care of the patients. Normally admitted non­COVID patients are allowed one attendant who takes care of their hygiene, their food, their daily necessities. However, for COVID patients, such care is to be taken by the Nurses, attendants and other staff of the hospitals.

[4] Although not confirmed, but, there are reports both in the print and digital medias that the COVID patients have lost their lives on account of proper care and attention not being provided to   them. It has also come to our knowledge on account of dehydration and other negligence, COVID patients have lost their lives.

[5] There are also reports that necessary precaution are (sic) not being taken for the attending doctors and staff in terms of providing essential protective gadgets, consumables, PPE kits, etc. They cannot be put to risk under any circumstances.

The entire order may be read here: 

 

Related:

Ahmedabad Civil Hospital “as good as a dungeon”: Guj HC slams state gov’t

Is it enough to be ‘not as bad as Italy or France’?

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Trump ends relationship with WHO accusing it of helping China cover up the Coronavirus crisis

Continues tirade against China, blaming it for not only Covid-19, but also collapse of the American economy

30 May 2020

ChinaImage Courtesy:news18.com

On May 29, US President Donald Trump made a shocking announcement, terminating the relationship with the World Health Organisation. Addressing the media from the White House lawn Trump said, “Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organisation and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent, noble public health needs.”

The US President alleged that the WHO had been pressured by China to cover-up the Coronavirus crisis when it first originated in China. Trump said, “Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations to the World Health Organisation and pressured the World Health Organisation to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by the Chinese authorities.” He added, “China has total control over the World Health Organisation despite only paying USD 40 million per year, compared to what the United States has been paying which is approximately USD 450 million a year.”

Accusing China for the global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump said, “The world is now suffering due to the maleficence of the Chinese government. China’s cover-up of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than one hundred thousand American lives and over a million lives worldwide.” Trump said, “The world needs answers from China. We must have transparency. Why is it that China shut off infected people from Wuhan to all other parts of China? It went nowhere else. I didn’t go to Beijing. It went nowhere else, but they allowed them to freely travel throughout the world including Europe and the United States.”

Trump also continued his tirade against China blaming it for the failure of the American economy. Trump said, “China’s pattern of misconduct is well known. For decades they have ripped off the United States like no one has ever done before. Hundreds of billions of dollars were lost dealing with China, especially over the years during the prior administration.” He added, “China raided our factories, offshored our jobs, gutted our industries, stole our intellectual property, and violated their commitments under the World Trade Organisation. To make matters worse, they are considered a developing nation, getting all sorts of benefits that others including the United States are not entitled to.”

But Trump did not stop at merely blaming China for the pandemic or economic collapse. He also accused them of industrial espionage and said, “Today I will issue a proclamation to better secure our universities’ vital research and to suspend the entry of certain foreign nationals from China who we have identified as potential security risks.”

This open targeting of China by a person holding an office as powerful as that of the President of the United States could have implications for not just international relations between US and China, and the economies of both countries, but could also pose a potential threat to Chinese Americans and people of Chinese or East Asian origin, living, working in or vising the United States who could now be accused of being spies!

Racial tensions are already high in the United States in wake of the killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis policeman, with protests, rioting and looting being reported from across the country. Already media persons including CNN’s reporter Omar Jiminez as well as his crew were arrested live on national television by the police while covering the unrest and protests in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Wave 3 news reporter Kaitlin Rust and her camera person were shot at with rubber bullets, once again live on TV while covering the civil unrest in Louisville.

Meanwhile, officer Derek Chauvin, who was seen in a viral video pressing his knee on the neck of Floyd who was lying helplessly on the ground before he died, has now been arrested. His wife has also reportedly filed for divorce.

Trump ends relationship with WHO accusing it of helping China cover up the Coronavirus crisis

Continues tirade against China, blaming it for not only Covid-19, but also collapse of the American economy

ChinaImage Courtesy:news18.com

On May 29, US President Donald Trump made a shocking announcement, terminating the relationship with the World Health Organisation. Addressing the media from the White House lawn Trump said, “Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organisation and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent, noble public health needs.”

The US President alleged that the WHO had been pressured by China to cover-up the Coronavirus crisis when it first originated in China. Trump said, “Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations to the World Health Organisation and pressured the World Health Organisation to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by the Chinese authorities.” He added, “China has total control over the World Health Organisation despite only paying USD 40 million per year, compared to what the United States has been paying which is approximately USD 450 million a year.”

Accusing China for the global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump said, “The world is now suffering due to the maleficence of the Chinese government. China’s cover-up of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than one hundred thousand American lives and over a million lives worldwide.” Trump said, “The world needs answers from China. We must have transparency. Why is it that China shut off infected people from Wuhan to all other parts of China? It went nowhere else. I didn’t go to Beijing. It went nowhere else, but they allowed them to freely travel throughout the world including Europe and the United States.”

Trump also continued his tirade against China blaming it for the failure of the American economy. Trump said, “China’s pattern of misconduct is well known. For decades they have ripped off the United States like no one has ever done before. Hundreds of billions of dollars were lost dealing with China, especially over the years during the prior administration.” He added, “China raided our factories, offshored our jobs, gutted our industries, stole our intellectual property, and violated their commitments under the World Trade Organisation. To make matters worse, they are considered a developing nation, getting all sorts of benefits that others including the United States are not entitled to.”

But Trump did not stop at merely blaming China for the pandemic or economic collapse. He also accused them of industrial espionage and said, “Today I will issue a proclamation to better secure our universities’ vital research and to suspend the entry of certain foreign nationals from China who we have identified as potential security risks.”

This open targeting of China by a person holding an office as powerful as that of the President of the United States could have implications for not just international relations between US and China, and the economies of both countries, but could also pose a potential threat to Chinese Americans and people of Chinese or East Asian origin, living, working in or vising the United States who could now be accused of being spies!

Racial tensions are already high in the United States in wake of the killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis policeman, with protests, rioting and looting being reported from across the country. Already media persons including CNN’s reporter Omar Jiminez as well as his crew were arrested live on national television by the police while covering the unrest and protests in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Wave 3 news reporter Kaitlin Rust and her camera person were shot at with rubber bullets, once again live on TV while covering the civil unrest in Louisville.

Meanwhile, officer Derek Chauvin, who was seen in a viral video pressing his knee on the neck of Floyd who was lying helplessly on the ground before he died, has now been arrested. His wife has also reportedly filed for divorce.

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Quarantine facilities across the country crumbling apart show findings

Most quarantine centers suffer from overcrowding, poor hygiene standards and lack of food and water

30 May 2020

LockdownImage Courtesy:timesofindia

One day short of completing the 4th phase of the Covid-19 lockdown, India still seems a long way from conquering the Covid-19 beast. According to the Central government, as on May 26, a total of 22.81 lakh people were in quarantine facilities all over the country.

In Maharashtra, the number of people currently in home quarantine is 535,467 and those in institutional quarantine is 35,967. In Gujarat, a total of 482, 434 people are in quarantine – 471,003 in home quarantine, 10,732 in government facilities and 699 in private facilities. In Bihar, those in quarantine stand at 2.1 lakh, in Uttar Pradesh – 3.6 lakh, in Chhattisgarh – 1.86 lakh, in Odisha – 1.18 lakh, 88,536 in Jharkhand, 13,941 in Assam and 1.32 lakh in West Bengal.

The authorities are yet to enhance testing measures and streamline the methods of transportation of migrants back to their villages. Now, with the number of infections surging, the authorities are finding it difficult to operate their quarantine centers efficiently and provide people admitted to them with basic facilities like hygiene and nutritious food.

Media reports about abysmal quarantine facilities

If one goes through the innumerable media reports on the matter, it will be apparent that people are fleeing quarantine centers, especially those from the underprivileged sections citizens who are lodged in facilities provided by the state government, alleging they are treated like second-class citizens and untouchables who struggle for food, water, clean restrooms and basic medical care. These reports highlight how the quarantine facilities are not upto the mark, especially in terms of food and sanitation.

A fortnight ago, over 100 migrants in Latehar, Jharkhand escaped from a quarantine centre citing poor facilities there, The Times of India reported.

At a quarantine centre in Sheikhpura, Bihar, twelve migrants, including two women fell critically ill after having dinner there, The Week reported.

In Bihar’s Madhepura, nine migrants were booked under Section 188 of the IPC after they allegedly changed their quarantine centre without the consent of local authorities. They had complained that the quarantine center they were kept at lacked basic facilities like water and electricity, ANI reported.

Returnee migrant labourers lodged at the Dhubri River Port mass quarantine centre in Assam protested that they were given only food and not provided any items of daily use, The Telegraph India reported.

In Chhattisgarh, three girls, including two infants died in three separate quarantine centers across the State. Officials said that two of the deaths of an 18-month old and three-month-old caused due to asphyxiation while the children were being fed. A four-month old who passed away too was said to be ‘severely malnourished’, The Indian Express reported.

In another incident, around 33 people at the quarantine center in Beswargaon Nursing Training Centre in Kokrajhar, Assam, tried to flee alleging lack of facilities, East Mojo reported.

Sabrang India’s findings

In light of these reports, Sabrang India spoke to various migrants who have now safely returned home and are in / have been discharged from various quarantine centers across the country. This is what they had to say.

Parmanand Rana from Odisha who was in a quarantine centre in Balangir district said, “We were about 40 people quarantined in a school in the village. There were three bathrooms, but two were dirty, so we used to use only one. We were provided with beds and food. We got food – rice, dal and a vegetable, twice a day – lunch at 12 noon and dinner and around 8 PM. We were also provided breakfast in the morning and tea between meals. The centre is quite clean, though there are no dustbins. At the start, there was a lot of problem regarding water. There was no water to wash hands or to drink. We didn’t even have sanitizers. No doctors visit regularly, but our Covid-19 test has been done and we are now waiting for our results.”

A migrant from Jharkhand requesting anonymity said, “I was sent to a quarantine centre in Barkagaon in Jharkhand when I returned from Mumbai. We were all from one village and were 32 of us. We didn’t face any problem at the quarantine centre at all. The centre was huge and there was space for recreation as well. The beds, food, mosquito nets, etc. all in place when we went there.”

On the condition of anonymity, another migrant from West Bengal’s Birbhum district told us, “When I returned from Mumbai, I went to the police station in the village. The quarantine center there was full and we did wait there for two days. There were some delays in food getting delivered to us and so we a group of 10 – 12 of us volunteered to quarantine at a school in the village. There, however, we had to make our own arrangements for food and other facilities as the government couldn’t provide it to us. The school was cleaned by the villagers and handed over to us and thereafter for 14 days, we maintained the cleanliness in the premises. We have no issues with the government because we know it is trying its best. There were a lot of people who came to the state in the past few days and the government was trying to provide for everybody. Plus, Cyclone Amphan made matters worse. It is still raining continuously here and that is why the delays took place at the start.”

Laxman Prasad from Jharkhand said, “I spent only two days at the government quarantine center. The doctor conducted check-ups and declared us healthy. At the start there were some lapses in the facilities. We weren’t getting proper food at the center at the start due to the number of people there. Hence, we requested for home quarantine and were granted permission for the same.”

A migrant from Odisha who completed his mandatory 14-quarantine at the Biripali Panchayat High School in the Biripali village, said“We were 20 people at the quarantine center. The government has provided us everything through the Panchayat. There are 4 toilets and the facility is clean and well maintained. We’re provided two meals, apart from breakfast and snacks. The mukhiya of the village has made arrangements for the cleaning of the facility. We didn’t face any problem at the center.”

In March, there were a litany of complaints against civic-run Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai which was the first isolation facility in Mumbai where patients complained of filthy conditions, broken and soiled bathrooms and no water. At the time, BMC Chief Pravin Pardeshi had told The Times of India, “We are revamping facilities at the hospital. It is mentally stressful to be alone in quarantine, so we are providing TV and magazines to patients to make them feel better.” The BMC also had plans to rope in a private agency to look after the cleaning requirements at the centre.

The same publication had reported about an Air India Pilot couple who had alleged that the Seven Hills Hospital where they were put in quarantine, wasn’t following WHO guidelines. They alleged that they were not asked basic questions about their health, there were no gloves, no sanitizers, no N95 or triple layer masks at the hospital and the whole area including the common washrooms was not disinfected. At the time, a doctor of the hospital had said that the couple could’ve chosen to stay in a hotel-based quarantine instead of getting admitted to a public facility. Dr. Mohan Joshi, in-charge of Seven Hills, said that people in quarantine didn’t need to be attended to regularly, as they were asymptomatic. He had told TOI, “Regular monitoring is done for patients in isolation who have symptoms.”

Centre’s guidelines for quarantine

According to the guidelines for quarantine facilities issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, each facility must have:

1.       Strategic entry and exit points to prevent and control infection in the facility

2.       Medical doctors and other health care staff needs to be available for routine examination

3.       Housekeeping staff should be made available

4.       Availability of security personnel should be ensured

5.       Rooms with an in house capacity of 5 to 10 beds

6.       Potable water

7.       Disposable and pre-packed food needs to be served to quarantine persons

8.       Personal toiletries/ towel/ blanket/ pillow with covers/electric kettle, room heater and water dispenser may be provided to each person depending on availability.

However, two months later, the problem still seems to persist. A most recent report by The Indian Express speaks about 53-year-old Deepak Hate, a constable, who passed away merely hours after being discharged from a Covid Care Centre (CCC) which is earmarked for asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

In the wake of these findings and reports, perhaps the state and central governments need to revisit their testing guidelines apart from conducting strict inspections of quarantine facilities across the country.

Related:

Migrant labourers from Bengal driven out of quarantine center in Odisha
SHOCKING! States ask incoming migrants to pay for institutional quarantine

Quarantine facilities across the country crumbling apart show findings

Most quarantine centers suffer from overcrowding, poor hygiene standards and lack of food and water

LockdownImage Courtesy:timesofindia

One day short of completing the 4th phase of the Covid-19 lockdown, India still seems a long way from conquering the Covid-19 beast. According to the Central government, as on May 26, a total of 22.81 lakh people were in quarantine facilities all over the country.

In Maharashtra, the number of people currently in home quarantine is 535,467 and those in institutional quarantine is 35,967. In Gujarat, a total of 482, 434 people are in quarantine – 471,003 in home quarantine, 10,732 in government facilities and 699 in private facilities. In Bihar, those in quarantine stand at 2.1 lakh, in Uttar Pradesh – 3.6 lakh, in Chhattisgarh – 1.86 lakh, in Odisha – 1.18 lakh, 88,536 in Jharkhand, 13,941 in Assam and 1.32 lakh in West Bengal.

The authorities are yet to enhance testing measures and streamline the methods of transportation of migrants back to their villages. Now, with the number of infections surging, the authorities are finding it difficult to operate their quarantine centers efficiently and provide people admitted to them with basic facilities like hygiene and nutritious food.

Media reports about abysmal quarantine facilities

If one goes through the innumerable media reports on the matter, it will be apparent that people are fleeing quarantine centers, especially those from the underprivileged sections citizens who are lodged in facilities provided by the state government, alleging they are treated like second-class citizens and untouchables who struggle for food, water, clean restrooms and basic medical care. These reports highlight how the quarantine facilities are not upto the mark, especially in terms of food and sanitation.

A fortnight ago, over 100 migrants in Latehar, Jharkhand escaped from a quarantine centre citing poor facilities there, The Times of India reported.

At a quarantine centre in Sheikhpura, Bihar, twelve migrants, including two women fell critically ill after having dinner there, The Week reported.

In Bihar’s Madhepura, nine migrants were booked under Section 188 of the IPC after they allegedly changed their quarantine centre without the consent of local authorities. They had complained that the quarantine center they were kept at lacked basic facilities like water and electricity, ANI reported.

Returnee migrant labourers lodged at the Dhubri River Port mass quarantine centre in Assam protested that they were given only food and not provided any items of daily use, The Telegraph India reported.

In Chhattisgarh, three girls, including two infants died in three separate quarantine centers across the State. Officials said that two of the deaths of an 18-month old and three-month-old caused due to asphyxiation while the children were being fed. A four-month old who passed away too was said to be ‘severely malnourished’, The Indian Express reported.

In another incident, around 33 people at the quarantine center in Beswargaon Nursing Training Centre in Kokrajhar, Assam, tried to flee alleging lack of facilities, East Mojo reported.

Sabrang India’s findings

In light of these reports, Sabrang India spoke to various migrants who have now safely returned home and are in / have been discharged from various quarantine centers across the country. This is what they had to say.

Parmanand Rana from Odisha who was in a quarantine centre in Balangir district said, “We were about 40 people quarantined in a school in the village. There were three bathrooms, but two were dirty, so we used to use only one. We were provided with beds and food. We got food – rice, dal and a vegetable, twice a day – lunch at 12 noon and dinner and around 8 PM. We were also provided breakfast in the morning and tea between meals. The centre is quite clean, though there are no dustbins. At the start, there was a lot of problem regarding water. There was no water to wash hands or to drink. We didn’t even have sanitizers. No doctors visit regularly, but our Covid-19 test has been done and we are now waiting for our results.”

A migrant from Jharkhand requesting anonymity said, “I was sent to a quarantine centre in Barkagaon in Jharkhand when I returned from Mumbai. We were all from one village and were 32 of us. We didn’t face any problem at the quarantine centre at all. The centre was huge and there was space for recreation as well. The beds, food, mosquito nets, etc. all in place when we went there.”

On the condition of anonymity, another migrant from West Bengal’s Birbhum district told us, “When I returned from Mumbai, I went to the police station in the village. The quarantine center there was full and we did wait there for two days. There were some delays in food getting delivered to us and so we a group of 10 – 12 of us volunteered to quarantine at a school in the village. There, however, we had to make our own arrangements for food and other facilities as the government couldn’t provide it to us. The school was cleaned by the villagers and handed over to us and thereafter for 14 days, we maintained the cleanliness in the premises. We have no issues with the government because we know it is trying its best. There were a lot of people who came to the state in the past few days and the government was trying to provide for everybody. Plus, Cyclone Amphan made matters worse. It is still raining continuously here and that is why the delays took place at the start.”

Laxman Prasad from Jharkhand said, “I spent only two days at the government quarantine center. The doctor conducted check-ups and declared us healthy. At the start there were some lapses in the facilities. We weren’t getting proper food at the center at the start due to the number of people there. Hence, we requested for home quarantine and were granted permission for the same.”

A migrant from Odisha who completed his mandatory 14-quarantine at the Biripali Panchayat High School in the Biripali village, said“We were 20 people at the quarantine center. The government has provided us everything through the Panchayat. There are 4 toilets and the facility is clean and well maintained. We’re provided two meals, apart from breakfast and snacks. The mukhiya of the village has made arrangements for the cleaning of the facility. We didn’t face any problem at the center.”

In March, there were a litany of complaints against civic-run Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai which was the first isolation facility in Mumbai where patients complained of filthy conditions, broken and soiled bathrooms and no water. At the time, BMC Chief Pravin Pardeshi had told The Times of India, “We are revamping facilities at the hospital. It is mentally stressful to be alone in quarantine, so we are providing TV and magazines to patients to make them feel better.” The BMC also had plans to rope in a private agency to look after the cleaning requirements at the centre.

The same publication had reported about an Air India Pilot couple who had alleged that the Seven Hills Hospital where they were put in quarantine, wasn’t following WHO guidelines. They alleged that they were not asked basic questions about their health, there were no gloves, no sanitizers, no N95 or triple layer masks at the hospital and the whole area including the common washrooms was not disinfected. At the time, a doctor of the hospital had said that the couple could’ve chosen to stay in a hotel-based quarantine instead of getting admitted to a public facility. Dr. Mohan Joshi, in-charge of Seven Hills, said that people in quarantine didn’t need to be attended to regularly, as they were asymptomatic. He had told TOI, “Regular monitoring is done for patients in isolation who have symptoms.”

Centre’s guidelines for quarantine

According to the guidelines for quarantine facilities issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, each facility must have:

1.       Strategic entry and exit points to prevent and control infection in the facility

2.       Medical doctors and other health care staff needs to be available for routine examination

3.       Housekeeping staff should be made available

4.       Availability of security personnel should be ensured

5.       Rooms with an in house capacity of 5 to 10 beds

6.       Potable water

7.       Disposable and pre-packed food needs to be served to quarantine persons

8.       Personal toiletries/ towel/ blanket/ pillow with covers/electric kettle, room heater and water dispenser may be provided to each person depending on availability.

However, two months later, the problem still seems to persist. A most recent report by The Indian Express speaks about 53-year-old Deepak Hate, a constable, who passed away merely hours after being discharged from a Covid Care Centre (CCC) which is earmarked for asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

In the wake of these findings and reports, perhaps the state and central governments need to revisit their testing guidelines apart from conducting strict inspections of quarantine facilities across the country.

Related:

Migrant labourers from Bengal driven out of quarantine center in Odisha
SHOCKING! States ask incoming migrants to pay for institutional quarantine

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Social distancing a luxury, lockdown a challenge in Dharavi: Shafiqa Bagwan

The story of Mumbai’s worst affected containment zone as it struggles through the Covid-19 outbreak

30 May 2020

Shafiqa BagwanImage Courtesy:ndtv.com

First publish on 29 May 2020

43-year-old Shafiqa Bagwan is a social worker who lives in Dharavi, an area known as Asia’s largest ‘slum’. However, reducing the identity of this area to merely being a ‘slum’ is not only insensitive and inappropriate, but also inaccurate, she told SabrangIndia's Deborah Grey in an interview where Bagwan takes us through the trials and tribulations of people in her neighbourhood, that has become one of the largest containment zones for Covid-19 in Mumbai.

Understanding Dharavi and its people

Dharavi is a vast cluster of homes, shops and winding bylanes spread over just 2.1 square kilometers located between Sion and Mahim in Mumbai. It is home to over 7,00,000 people from all religious and linguistic backgrounds; Hindus and Muslims, Maharashtrians and Tamils, daily-wagers and small entrepreneurs, migrants as well as sons of the soil.

But what is often overlooked in the region’s depiction in popular culture is that Dharavi is home to thousands of micro-entreprises related mostly to the production of leather goods, garment manufacturing, pottery, small electronics and recycling. Many of the goods produced here are exported to international markets. Though data regarding the size of the industries remains unreliable as most operate in the unorganized and informal sector, it cannot be denied that Dharavi has its own thriving economic ecosystem.

The people of Dharavi are hard-working people, who have modest means, but have hitherto lived independent lives relying on their own talent, efforts and entrepreneurial spirit to one day improve their economic condition and live the ‘Mumbai dream’.

But, ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown to combat its spread, Dharavi and its people have been hit hard. In the absence of any means of income and their meagre savings having being wipes off, now the residents of Dharavi are forced to swallow their pride, ask for help. The impact of the disease has therefore been not just on health and incomes, but also on the dignity of people.

At the time of publishing this piece there were 1,675 confirmed cases of the disease in Dharavi with 36 new cases reported just on Thursday, May 28.

Shafiqa Bagwan, who has worked with several national and international organisations as a part of projects related to controlling the spread of HIV and skill development among youth, tells us what makes Dharavi so vulnerable and the shares with us the uique challenges its people face.

Dharavi

Q) Why do you think the infection rate is so high in Dharavi?

A) Well, when 7 to 8 people live in a kholi (local word for small tenement) that measures 6 feet by 8 feet, social distancing becomes a luxury. Moreover, they start feeling frustrated on account of being cooped up inside such congested homes and thus often venture outside, thereby completely defeating the purpose of the lockdown.

Earlier, I used to call the cops to dispel crowds whenever a large number of people would gather together. But then the people started retaliating against me and even my children, so I stopped. It is difficult to make the people understand that they need to stay away from each other for their own protection.

So many times, I see even the elderly who are most vulnerable to the disease step out of their homes, just to catch a fresh breath of air. What can one tell them? It is impossible to control children. The older ones at least are aware that they must wear masks, but the little ones often throw caution to the winds. Now in such a case, even if one person catches the virus, the entire family gets infected!

Q) When cases first started coming to light, how did people respond?

A) Initially, some social workers who work in the field of HIV intervention would go door to door to take temperature readings and check for symptoms. The people who showed symptoms were then quarantined at facilities set up in schools nearby. But most people just dismissed it as a bout of flu or fever that one catches occasionally, and did not treat the coronavirus outbreak with the seriousness it required. Even now, I see the same attitude among many residents. They go for walks to the field nearby thinking nobody else would be there, but it turns out a lot of people had the same idea and it becomes a small crowd.

Q) What can you tell us about the migrant workers living in Dharavi?

A) Most of the single men who lived together in shared accommodations and sent money home have left. That was a large number of people and after their departure the pressure on our shared resources such as community toilets has eased a bit. Meanwhile, those who have families here have stayed hoping that the lockdown would be lifted. They have exhausted almost all of their savings and now depend on rations and aid provided by NGOs such as Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). These families were on the brink of starvation!

Q) It is interesting you bring up community toilets. What has been the impact on sanitation facilities?

A) There are two types of toilets; the Sulabh Shauchalayas or paid public toilets run by the government and the common toilets and bathrooms that are present in the chawls and redeveloped buildings. Both these places have always been notorious for their poor hygiene despite previously being cleaned thrice a day. But now, the frequency of cleaning has dropped and the fear is that asymptomatic carriers of the virus continue to use these facilities along with uninfected people who have now become even more vulnerable as these toilets have become infection hotspots! But interestingly, public toilets where earlier it was often difficult to even find a bar of soap or handwash, now all have sanitisers!

Q) What has been the impact of the lockdown on women?

A) Their misery has only been exacerbated as now men who would earlier be out of the homes for the better part of the day are now at home all the time. They keep making demands for food and tea. Even today when it comes to domestic chores men are not equal partners and don’t share the burden despite now being at home. Moreover, the instances of domestic violence have increased. Earlier the violence would take place only when the abuser came home. Now victims and abusers are at home together all day so the violence take place at all times. Also, an increase in frustration is causing newer people to become abusers. Needless to say, women and children continue to bear a disproportionate brunt of the violence.

Q) Now let us talk about the facilities still available. What kind of shops are open? What is still available?

A) grocery stores are open for a specific time every day. Milk and medical stores are also open throughout the day. But it is difficult to get vegetables as most shops are shut and there are no thelewalas (hand-cart pushers) operating these days. Most of the time, only onions, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic are available. I had once heard that someone managed to leave without being caught in the middle of the night to get vegetables from an early morning market somewhere in Mankhurd. Most vegetable vendors now just make small packages of whatever is available and sell from their doorstep or just in their immediate neighbourhood.

Q) Dharavi had its own economic eco-system. How has that been impacted?

A) After the shops downed shutter the unsold leather stock caught fungus. Now people are facing huge losses. I know of one man who ran a leather footwear shop who keeps his shutter up for a few hours each day selling small packets of onion and garlic. My husband had a garment business, that came to a grinding halt. Luckily both, my son and I can work from home, so our situation is not as dire as that of many others in Dharavi.

But the impact of the economic crisis truly hit me when one day I saw a young boy, no more than 8 or 9 years old selling tea. With no income, that was what his family for forced to do to survive amidst the lockdown.

Shafiqa Bagwan

Photo credit Shafiqa Bagwan

Q) What was it like to observe Ramzan and what was Eid like amidst the lockdown in Dharavi?

A) Well, all mosques had made it clear right from the beginning that everyone will have to pray at home and must follow all lockdown norms. The entire month of Ramzan was therefore rather sombre as nobody ventured out to meet friends and family or eat traditional delicacies at the night-time food fairs, as none were set up. There was no Eid shopping either as garment stores were shut. But then we realized that all of us were suffering together. After all, Dharavi isn’t home to just Muslims. All our neighbours from different communities and faiths were suffering just as much as us. Knowing we were all in this together helped us all cope. Some of my contacts in the Gulf also assisted in helping even the poor celebrate Eid by providing funds to purchase Sevai, sugar etc. to prepare traditional meals.

Q) Now that you have shared the problems faced by people, what kind of solutions do you think can help Dharavi?

A) We need greater awareness. The lackadaisical attitude of people who are even today dismissing the disease as a common cold, needs to stop otherwise the infection will continue to spread. Also, many families require financial assistance and aid in terms of food rations and essentials. CJP and a few other NGOs are doing this in different parts of Mumbai. In fact, Teesta Setalvad of CJP helped me get ration support from Deputy Collector Furog Mukadam who is arranging food supplies for people of Dharavi. But we need more intervention from the government, especially in terms of creating awareness among people.

Related:

Community toilets, filthy conditions spike coronavirus cases
BMC official passes away due to Covid-19, union alleges negligence
Covid-19: This is what happens when an area is sealed...
Dharavi a ticking bomb after two fresh cases take positive Covid-19 cases up to 9?
Affluent flyers bring Covid-19 to India, but mainly chawls and slums sealed off

Social distancing a luxury, lockdown a challenge in Dharavi: Shafiqa Bagwan

The story of Mumbai’s worst affected containment zone as it struggles through the Covid-19 outbreak

Shafiqa BagwanImage Courtesy:ndtv.com

First publish on 29 May 2020

43-year-old Shafiqa Bagwan is a social worker who lives in Dharavi, an area known as Asia’s largest ‘slum’. However, reducing the identity of this area to merely being a ‘slum’ is not only insensitive and inappropriate, but also inaccurate, she told SabrangIndia's Deborah Grey in an interview where Bagwan takes us through the trials and tribulations of people in her neighbourhood, that has become one of the largest containment zones for Covid-19 in Mumbai.

Understanding Dharavi and its people

Dharavi is a vast cluster of homes, shops and winding bylanes spread over just 2.1 square kilometers located between Sion and Mahim in Mumbai. It is home to over 7,00,000 people from all religious and linguistic backgrounds; Hindus and Muslims, Maharashtrians and Tamils, daily-wagers and small entrepreneurs, migrants as well as sons of the soil.

But what is often overlooked in the region’s depiction in popular culture is that Dharavi is home to thousands of micro-entreprises related mostly to the production of leather goods, garment manufacturing, pottery, small electronics and recycling. Many of the goods produced here are exported to international markets. Though data regarding the size of the industries remains unreliable as most operate in the unorganized and informal sector, it cannot be denied that Dharavi has its own thriving economic ecosystem.

The people of Dharavi are hard-working people, who have modest means, but have hitherto lived independent lives relying on their own talent, efforts and entrepreneurial spirit to one day improve their economic condition and live the ‘Mumbai dream’.

But, ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown to combat its spread, Dharavi and its people have been hit hard. In the absence of any means of income and their meagre savings having being wipes off, now the residents of Dharavi are forced to swallow their pride, ask for help. The impact of the disease has therefore been not just on health and incomes, but also on the dignity of people.

At the time of publishing this piece there were 1,675 confirmed cases of the disease in Dharavi with 36 new cases reported just on Thursday, May 28.

Shafiqa Bagwan, who has worked with several national and international organisations as a part of projects related to controlling the spread of HIV and skill development among youth, tells us what makes Dharavi so vulnerable and the shares with us the uique challenges its people face.

Dharavi

Q) Why do you think the infection rate is so high in Dharavi?

A) Well, when 7 to 8 people live in a kholi (local word for small tenement) that measures 6 feet by 8 feet, social distancing becomes a luxury. Moreover, they start feeling frustrated on account of being cooped up inside such congested homes and thus often venture outside, thereby completely defeating the purpose of the lockdown.

Earlier, I used to call the cops to dispel crowds whenever a large number of people would gather together. But then the people started retaliating against me and even my children, so I stopped. It is difficult to make the people understand that they need to stay away from each other for their own protection.

So many times, I see even the elderly who are most vulnerable to the disease step out of their homes, just to catch a fresh breath of air. What can one tell them? It is impossible to control children. The older ones at least are aware that they must wear masks, but the little ones often throw caution to the winds. Now in such a case, even if one person catches the virus, the entire family gets infected!

Q) When cases first started coming to light, how did people respond?

A) Initially, some social workers who work in the field of HIV intervention would go door to door to take temperature readings and check for symptoms. The people who showed symptoms were then quarantined at facilities set up in schools nearby. But most people just dismissed it as a bout of flu or fever that one catches occasionally, and did not treat the coronavirus outbreak with the seriousness it required. Even now, I see the same attitude among many residents. They go for walks to the field nearby thinking nobody else would be there, but it turns out a lot of people had the same idea and it becomes a small crowd.

Q) What can you tell us about the migrant workers living in Dharavi?

A) Most of the single men who lived together in shared accommodations and sent money home have left. That was a large number of people and after their departure the pressure on our shared resources such as community toilets has eased a bit. Meanwhile, those who have families here have stayed hoping that the lockdown would be lifted. They have exhausted almost all of their savings and now depend on rations and aid provided by NGOs such as Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). These families were on the brink of starvation!

Q) It is interesting you bring up community toilets. What has been the impact on sanitation facilities?

A) There are two types of toilets; the Sulabh Shauchalayas or paid public toilets run by the government and the common toilets and bathrooms that are present in the chawls and redeveloped buildings. Both these places have always been notorious for their poor hygiene despite previously being cleaned thrice a day. But now, the frequency of cleaning has dropped and the fear is that asymptomatic carriers of the virus continue to use these facilities along with uninfected people who have now become even more vulnerable as these toilets have become infection hotspots! But interestingly, public toilets where earlier it was often difficult to even find a bar of soap or handwash, now all have sanitisers!

Q) What has been the impact of the lockdown on women?

A) Their misery has only been exacerbated as now men who would earlier be out of the homes for the better part of the day are now at home all the time. They keep making demands for food and tea. Even today when it comes to domestic chores men are not equal partners and don’t share the burden despite now being at home. Moreover, the instances of domestic violence have increased. Earlier the violence would take place only when the abuser came home. Now victims and abusers are at home together all day so the violence take place at all times. Also, an increase in frustration is causing newer people to become abusers. Needless to say, women and children continue to bear a disproportionate brunt of the violence.

Q) Now let us talk about the facilities still available. What kind of shops are open? What is still available?

A) grocery stores are open for a specific time every day. Milk and medical stores are also open throughout the day. But it is difficult to get vegetables as most shops are shut and there are no thelewalas (hand-cart pushers) operating these days. Most of the time, only onions, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic are available. I had once heard that someone managed to leave without being caught in the middle of the night to get vegetables from an early morning market somewhere in Mankhurd. Most vegetable vendors now just make small packages of whatever is available and sell from their doorstep or just in their immediate neighbourhood.

Q) Dharavi had its own economic eco-system. How has that been impacted?

A) After the shops downed shutter the unsold leather stock caught fungus. Now people are facing huge losses. I know of one man who ran a leather footwear shop who keeps his shutter up for a few hours each day selling small packets of onion and garlic. My husband had a garment business, that came to a grinding halt. Luckily both, my son and I can work from home, so our situation is not as dire as that of many others in Dharavi.

But the impact of the economic crisis truly hit me when one day I saw a young boy, no more than 8 or 9 years old selling tea. With no income, that was what his family for forced to do to survive amidst the lockdown.

Shafiqa Bagwan

Photo credit Shafiqa Bagwan

Q) What was it like to observe Ramzan and what was Eid like amidst the lockdown in Dharavi?

A) Well, all mosques had made it clear right from the beginning that everyone will have to pray at home and must follow all lockdown norms. The entire month of Ramzan was therefore rather sombre as nobody ventured out to meet friends and family or eat traditional delicacies at the night-time food fairs, as none were set up. There was no Eid shopping either as garment stores were shut. But then we realized that all of us were suffering together. After all, Dharavi isn’t home to just Muslims. All our neighbours from different communities and faiths were suffering just as much as us. Knowing we were all in this together helped us all cope. Some of my contacts in the Gulf also assisted in helping even the poor celebrate Eid by providing funds to purchase Sevai, sugar etc. to prepare traditional meals.

Q) Now that you have shared the problems faced by people, what kind of solutions do you think can help Dharavi?

A) We need greater awareness. The lackadaisical attitude of people who are even today dismissing the disease as a common cold, needs to stop otherwise the infection will continue to spread. Also, many families require financial assistance and aid in terms of food rations and essentials. CJP and a few other NGOs are doing this in different parts of Mumbai. In fact, Teesta Setalvad of CJP helped me get ration support from Deputy Collector Furog Mukadam who is arranging food supplies for people of Dharavi. But we need more intervention from the government, especially in terms of creating awareness among people.

Related:

Community toilets, filthy conditions spike coronavirus cases
BMC official passes away due to Covid-19, union alleges negligence
Covid-19: This is what happens when an area is sealed...
Dharavi a ticking bomb after two fresh cases take positive Covid-19 cases up to 9?
Affluent flyers bring Covid-19 to India, but mainly chawls and slums sealed off

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Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services: Rail Minister Piyush Goyal

Railway Protection Force reported 80 deaths on Shramik special trains designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places

30 May 2020

Indian RailwayImage Courtesy:telanganatoday.com

Even as the Ministry of Railways continues to ‘celebrate’ what it has termed as a successful operation, deaths of workers and labourers travelling in the Shramik Special trains continue to dominate national headlines. Meanwhile, Railway board chairman VK Yadav made an attempt to ‘condole’ the deaths by saying, “Anyone’s death is a big loss... Indian Railways has a control system where the train is immediately stopped if someone is found ill and they are sent to the nearest hospital base to try and save their lives.”

However, the fact remains that people have died while on the packed trains, allegedly without enough food and water on board, and long delays. "Many such passengers were attended to and many deliveries also took place. I can imagine the plight of labourers travelling even in these conditions. In case of deaths, the local zones investigate the reason and without an investigation, there are allegations that they died of hunger when there was no shortage of food. Some deaths occurred and we are compiling the figures... we will issue the figures in a few days," he added. 

An explosive report in the Hindustan Times has exposed that the Railway  Protection Force itself has reported 80 deaths on these Shramik trains, designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places. At a press conference on Friday, Railway Board chairman VK Yadav had said, “Out of the total 3840 trains run so far, only 71 trains have been diverted to their destination by diverted route.” He added that these trains will continue to run till the “last labourer reaches his home.”
 

However, scores will never reach home. As the HT reports states, 80 deaths have been recorded on board the Shramik Special trains between May 9 and May 27. The data is from the Railway Protection Force. The Rail Ministry has maintained that those who died on board, had already been suffering with “chronic diseases” and were stranded when they went to different cities for “medical treatment”. The dead include men, women, and children, whose families have claimed that the victims succumbed to heat exhaustion, thirst and hunger while on these long journeys. 

The Rail Minister Piyush Goyal, however, has only seen many “smiles and happy faces” so far. He posted: “All Smiles & Happy Faces: Following safety protocols and distributing food & water, Railways is committed to ensuring a safe & comfortable journey for all. Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services while travelling from Chennai to Madhubani in Bihar.”

According to the HT report, the number of dead is confirmed by the RPF, “and a final list will soon be issued after coordinating with the states .” The HT analysis states that: “the deaths were recorded from May 9 till May 27 across several zones including the East Central Railway zone, North Eastern Railway zone, Northern Railway Zone and North Central Railway zone; and the ages of the dead ranged from 4 to 85. The list also mentions the co-morbidities or accidents that caused the deaths in a few cases.”

The Railway ministry’s statements maintains the official line of how it was passengers who were unwell who have succumbed to their chronic illness while on board the Shramik Special trains: “ It has been observed that some people who are availing this service have pre-existing medical conditions which aggravates the risk they face during the Covid-19 pandemic. A few unfortunate cases of deaths related to pre-existing medical conditions while travelling have happened.” 

The Ministry of Railways also issued directives to passengers. Its “appeal” put the onus of safe travel on the labourers undertaking the journey. It states: “In order to protect the vulnerable persons from COVID-19, in line with Ministry of Home Affairs, Order No 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 17.05.2020, Ministry of Railways makes an appeal that persons with co-morbidities (for example - hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, immune deficiency conditions), pregnant women, children below the age of 10 years and persons above 65 years of age may avoid travel by rail, except when it is essential.”

While it seems to expect an already distressed and desperate migrant worker to leave their young children or unwell family members behind in the hospitel city they want to escape from, it offers helpline numbers 139 & 138 that can be dialed in case of distress or emergency. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that workers travelling on these special trains must be provided food and water by the states administration, and the  Indian Railways. Many passengers have already said on record that food and water have not been provided by the railways at all. Nor were they able to buy any food at stations where the trains were halted, or diverted to for hours. Most journeys home have taken much longer than they ever thought possible.

And the horrors continue. The Indian Express reported on how a migrant labourer’s body lay unattended on Shramik Special train for four days. It was only discovered when the train was being cleaned at the Jhansi railway yard on May 27. The deceased identified as Mohan Lal Sharma (37), worked as a driver at a factory in Navi Mumbai, was a resident of Basti district in Uttar Pradesh stated IE. He left Mumbai on May 21, on a private bus for Jhansi and then boarded a ‘Shramik Special’ train from Jhansi to Gorakhpur, on May 23. The  ticket found on his body showed the time of departure as 11.40 am. The IE quotes Pankaj Kumar Singh, Chief PRO, North Eastern Railways, confirmed that  the train reached Gorakhpur on May 24, at 4 pm. On normal days the journey takes about 11 hours.

Once empty, it reached Jhansi railway yard on May 27, at 7.30 pm and the body was found inside a toilet in the train when it was being sanitised. The victim’s Aadhaar card identified him as Mohan Lal Sharma, a resident of Basti district,” Jhansi GRP (Government Railway Police) Inspector Anjana Verma told IE.

According to the IE report, Chief PRO, North Central Railway, Ajit Kumar Singh, was asked why the train took so long to reach Gorakhpur, and on its return journey as well. His answer: “During May 23-24, there was congestion on train routes. I can’t give specific details of how long the train was delayed at each station.”

So far, there has been no information of any Railway officials being held accountable for the deaths of  those 80 migrant labourers.

Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services: Rail Minister Piyush Goyal

Railway Protection Force reported 80 deaths on Shramik special trains designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places

Indian RailwayImage Courtesy:telanganatoday.com

Even as the Ministry of Railways continues to ‘celebrate’ what it has termed as a successful operation, deaths of workers and labourers travelling in the Shramik Special trains continue to dominate national headlines. Meanwhile, Railway board chairman VK Yadav made an attempt to ‘condole’ the deaths by saying, “Anyone’s death is a big loss... Indian Railways has a control system where the train is immediately stopped if someone is found ill and they are sent to the nearest hospital base to try and save their lives.”

However, the fact remains that people have died while on the packed trains, allegedly without enough food and water on board, and long delays. "Many such passengers were attended to and many deliveries also took place. I can imagine the plight of labourers travelling even in these conditions. In case of deaths, the local zones investigate the reason and without an investigation, there are allegations that they died of hunger when there was no shortage of food. Some deaths occurred and we are compiling the figures... we will issue the figures in a few days," he added. 

An explosive report in the Hindustan Times has exposed that the Railway  Protection Force itself has reported 80 deaths on these Shramik trains, designated to carry migrant labourers back to their native places. At a press conference on Friday, Railway Board chairman VK Yadav had said, “Out of the total 3840 trains run so far, only 71 trains have been diverted to their destination by diverted route.” He added that these trains will continue to run till the “last labourer reaches his home.”
 

However, scores will never reach home. As the HT reports states, 80 deaths have been recorded on board the Shramik Special trains between May 9 and May 27. The data is from the Railway Protection Force. The Rail Ministry has maintained that those who died on board, had already been suffering with “chronic diseases” and were stranded when they went to different cities for “medical treatment”. The dead include men, women, and children, whose families have claimed that the victims succumbed to heat exhaustion, thirst and hunger while on these long journeys. 

The Rail Minister Piyush Goyal, however, has only seen many “smiles and happy faces” so far. He posted: “All Smiles & Happy Faces: Following safety protocols and distributing food & water, Railways is committed to ensuring a safe & comfortable journey for all. Watch the passengers express their satisfaction with Railway services while travelling from Chennai to Madhubani in Bihar.”

According to the HT report, the number of dead is confirmed by the RPF, “and a final list will soon be issued after coordinating with the states .” The HT analysis states that: “the deaths were recorded from May 9 till May 27 across several zones including the East Central Railway zone, North Eastern Railway zone, Northern Railway Zone and North Central Railway zone; and the ages of the dead ranged from 4 to 85. The list also mentions the co-morbidities or accidents that caused the deaths in a few cases.”

The Railway ministry’s statements maintains the official line of how it was passengers who were unwell who have succumbed to their chronic illness while on board the Shramik Special trains: “ It has been observed that some people who are availing this service have pre-existing medical conditions which aggravates the risk they face during the Covid-19 pandemic. A few unfortunate cases of deaths related to pre-existing medical conditions while travelling have happened.” 

The Ministry of Railways also issued directives to passengers. Its “appeal” put the onus of safe travel on the labourers undertaking the journey. It states: “In order to protect the vulnerable persons from COVID-19, in line with Ministry of Home Affairs, Order No 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 17.05.2020, Ministry of Railways makes an appeal that persons with co-morbidities (for example - hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, immune deficiency conditions), pregnant women, children below the age of 10 years and persons above 65 years of age may avoid travel by rail, except when it is essential.”

While it seems to expect an already distressed and desperate migrant worker to leave their young children or unwell family members behind in the hospitel city they want to escape from, it offers helpline numbers 139 & 138 that can be dialed in case of distress or emergency. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that workers travelling on these special trains must be provided food and water by the states administration, and the  Indian Railways. Many passengers have already said on record that food and water have not been provided by the railways at all. Nor were they able to buy any food at stations where the trains were halted, or diverted to for hours. Most journeys home have taken much longer than they ever thought possible.

And the horrors continue. The Indian Express reported on how a migrant labourer’s body lay unattended on Shramik Special train for four days. It was only discovered when the train was being cleaned at the Jhansi railway yard on May 27. The deceased identified as Mohan Lal Sharma (37), worked as a driver at a factory in Navi Mumbai, was a resident of Basti district in Uttar Pradesh stated IE. He left Mumbai on May 21, on a private bus for Jhansi and then boarded a ‘Shramik Special’ train from Jhansi to Gorakhpur, on May 23. The  ticket found on his body showed the time of departure as 11.40 am. The IE quotes Pankaj Kumar Singh, Chief PRO, North Eastern Railways, confirmed that  the train reached Gorakhpur on May 24, at 4 pm. On normal days the journey takes about 11 hours.

Once empty, it reached Jhansi railway yard on May 27, at 7.30 pm and the body was found inside a toilet in the train when it was being sanitised. The victim’s Aadhaar card identified him as Mohan Lal Sharma, a resident of Basti district,” Jhansi GRP (Government Railway Police) Inspector Anjana Verma told IE.

According to the IE report, Chief PRO, North Central Railway, Ajit Kumar Singh, was asked why the train took so long to reach Gorakhpur, and on its return journey as well. His answer: “During May 23-24, there was congestion on train routes. I can’t give specific details of how long the train was delayed at each station.”

So far, there has been no information of any Railway officials being held accountable for the deaths of  those 80 migrant labourers.

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