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Big Crisis = Big Reality Check: Five COVID-19 Lessons For India

Big crises expose weaknesses, biases, mistakes. Yeh Jo India Hai Na, will we learn from coronavirus reality check?

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A big crisis is always a great reality check. It shows you things as they really are. It exposes your weaknesses, your biases, your false assumptions, your every mistake. But the question is: Yeh Jo India Hai Na… will we learn from the coronavirus reality check?

Reality Check #1

India’s testing rate for coronavirus is around 500 per million people. We love comparing with Pakistan, right? Well, in Pakistan, the testing rate is 700; in Malaysia, it’s 3,900; in Australia, it is 19,000, and so on.

A low testing rate creates a false notion that we don’t have many positive cases. It also means we don’t have proper data on the spread of coronavirus to plan ahead. And while 500 is the national average, some huge states are testing much less than that.


In West Bengal, the testing rate is just 100, in Bihar it is 130, and in UP 226. Over 45 crore people live in these 3 states, a third of India, and we’re not testing them enough.

Also, we do not not even have enough ICU beds or ventilators for critical cases. Look at Bihar. The state has 10 percent of India’s population but it has only 1.7 percent of India’s ventilators and ICU beds. There is only one ventilator for every 1.6 lakh people and just one ICU bed per 76,000 in Bihar.

What’s the reality check here? Right now, it’s the lockdown that’s fighting off the novel coronavirus, at a huge economic cost. Also, perhaps the fact that India has a comparatively younger population, the heat factor, or the BCG vaccine factor may be helping us out.

But the next big virus may target the young, it could thrive in the heat – are our hospitals ready for it? The answer is no. Especially, in India’s poorest and most populated states.

Unfortunately, healthcare is not an election issue in India. So, will the coronavirus crisis see the central or state governments spend more on healthcare? I doubt it.


Reality Check #2

Suddenly, we find that Dharavi slum in Mumbai matters. If coronavirus numbers and deaths keep rising in Mumbai’s densely populated slums, then you cannot lift the lockdown. And if the lockdown stays ,then Mumbai stays shut – rich, poor, middle-class, everyone loses.

What’s the learning? Improve living conditions, improve civic amenities, improve healthcare in every urban slum. Start including the poor in urban planning. Not just in Mumbai, but in every Indian city.

Reality Check #3

India’s migrant workers, crores of them, are nobody’s. The lockdown started, without caring about how the migrant workers would manage. We gave them neither trains or buses to get home. We let them walk home. We even made them hop home, we sprayed them with chemicals without caring for their dignity.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s meagre relief package doesn’t even cover most migrant workers. While buses brought back students from Kota, there were no such plans for migrant workers. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has repeatedly said he doesn’t want Bihar’s migrant workers to return, as he doesn’t want their health to be his problem.


Reality Check #4

The ignorance, racism and communalism of many among us was exposed by the coronavirus crisis. Ministers chanting ‘Go Corona Go’, ministers saying ‘gargle with turmeric and salt’, or ‘stand in the sun to kill coronavirus’. If the Virus is to be defeated by science, how will such ministers help? Even more dangerous – fellow Indians from the northeast being spat upon, abused, stopped from entering shops – because they look ‘Chinese’.

Equally sad – seeing doctors battling the virus – being abused by their neighbours, doctors who died fighting coronavirus being denied a dignified burial. And then – the Tablighi Jamaat obsession. Was the Markaz a mistake, yes. But the ‘godi media’ spin and the trolling was vicious – ‘international conspiracy’, ‘terror plot’ calling for every Tablighi be hunted down like a criminal, labelling the sect as ‘anti-national’, ‘seditious’. Wow! We even managed to communalise an epidemic!


Reality Check #5

Jo hum kehte hain, hum karte nahi. Aur jab hum karte nahi, to darte bhi nahi! (We dont do what we say; and we are not afraid when we don’t do anything).

Sitharaman promised one kilo of dal to every poor family. But only 10 percent of these families have received their share of dal in April. There’s excess dal in government godowns, the trucks are there, roads are empty, yet people are sitting in their homes hungry. But no delivery.

Try finding someone to blame, you won’t. The bureaucracy in India is never accountable. Another example – over 100 coronavirus deaths in Ahmedabad while just four deaths in all of Kerala. Clearly, coronavirus was mismanaged in Gujarat. Again, try finding a sarkari babu to blame for the lives lost. You won’t. The babu in India is never accountable.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… Will it learn from the coronavirus reality check? Sadly, I doubt it will.

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Topics:  Lockdown   coronavirus   COVID-19 

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