“We absolutely must ensure that this virus does not spread to any further parts of the country. We should be worried every time we hear that someone in some part of the country has died of the virus. We must ensure that new hotspots do not spring up.”Narendra Modi
After the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by WHO, India underwent lockdown starting last week of March 2020 and stopped all the ongoing activities considering that there was no other alternative to prevent community transmission. The first lockdown came into force at a notice period of nearly 4 hours and the whole country was taken aback. The severity of lockdown diminished gradually, starting from Lockdown 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 to Lockdown 5.0. Now with the beginning of unlocking, introspecting the handling of COVID-19 lockdown holds relevance.
Amidst these lockdowns, the country remained locked in houses barring those engaged in essential services. The definitions for the exemptions kept on changing in every lockdown and now the country has started unlocking along with an ongoing Lockdown. However, this lockdown declaration carried an appeal to citizenry to bear with it for a limited period as it was necessary to break the COVID-19 cycle.
The federal structure of the country having the sacrosanct constitution enforced uniformly never permits for discrimination of its citizens on the basis of the state they belong to. Also, there is a huge variation in terms of economic activities leading to wealth creation among Indian states. So, for better livelihood and to get relieved from poverty, people move out across the country. People migrate from the populous states to the states having better economic opportunities for their survival. The majority of workers in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, etc. belong to the migrant population. The number of people in the unorganized sector and non-native workforce are quite large and there seems to be no mechanism for inclusion of these numbers in the policy issues.
The disruptions caused by COVID-19, physical distancing, fear of contracting the disease, economic uncertainty including large-scale unemployment have affected the mental health of the society. The consequences of lockdown impacted everyone differently depending upon the availability of money and the food reserves with them.
Generally, the Indian households are managed by the income, primarily from the self-employment or salary/wages. The household incomes coming from both the formal sector and the informal sector got affected adversely. The retention in the home became troublesome for the daily wage earners and the meagre salary class. Governments tried their level best to create the arrangements for providing food and shelter to those who did not have resources. But, it was not practically feasible for the mammoth number of the daily wage earners and the meagre salary people for such a long period of lockdown.
Also, the enforcement of social distancing and other norms to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 infection made it difficult to support the distressed population. As a result, the sufferings, hunger, fear of survival, and empty cash pockets panicked the migrant workers to return back to their homes. The frequent assembling at transit stations like railway stations, bus stations was evident on numerous occasions. It became much more critical during the last days of each phase of lockdown as the migrants used to anticipate the lifting of lockdown.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”Mahatma Gandhi
Also Read: Resuscitating Migrant Workers to Economy
The continuation of the lockdowns one after the other caused the uncertainty to grow exponentially. This resulted in the migrant population making their own arrangements in the absence of any public transport. The instances of people travelling by trucks, loaders, rickshaw, auto, motorbike, cycle, and foot have been witnessed which proved more challenging than COVID-19. Travelling back to native places became a psychological challenge to them. The country witnessed a good number of deaths during such a mass movement.
With the pressure mounted by the migrant population and the political cadres, the governments had to make arrangements for the movement of the migrant population. The system created for the transport of migrants by train and buses had its own complexities. The use of online facilities for registration to travel and completing other formalities was not possible for those without smartphones. This led to the poor migrants depending on the agents facilitating these processes who charged them heavily. The real situation was altogether different from the public proclamation of the free of cost arrangements for travel of migrant population and the migrants had to pay either from their own pocket or by taking a loan.
It appears that the hardships in the quarantine process also forced people to move stealthily. With the passage of time, the primary thermal scanning was possible at every location along with the increase in testing facilities. But it all took more than two months and brought the country to a miserable state in terms of its economy.
The practice of work from home affected the women workforce which had the challenge of balancing the work and caring for the family together. Normally, emotional supports are drawn from women. But the same section was affected badly in the lockdown period. There have been reports of an increase in domestic violence and the same may have long term implications. It resulted in a lot of frustration.
The significant relaxations for starting the economic activities started in the latter part of May. The process of unlocking also started in a phased manner, however, the number of COVID-19 cases kept on rising. A lot of migrant workers coming from megacities like Mumbai were found infected by the virus. The timeline of corona infection makes it clear that most of them got infected during the course of lockdown. Had the government declared Lockdown 1.0 in advance, most of the affected sections could have got settled at their places and the mass exodus of humans which we saw during the subsequent lockdowns could have been avoided.
Though the pandemic is still showing its wrath, there is a need for introspection on the way it has been handled. The pathetic and tragic death of the number of migrants due to the accident, hunger, distress, non-availability of medical aid, etc. is ponderable and miserable. This exercise of finding out the reasons for non-corona deaths in the period of lockdown is necessary for better decision making in the future. Lessons should be learnt from every happening.
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