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Poverty and Pandemic
1/15/2021 11:46:13 PM
Sameer Khan

The Corona virus or Covid-19 has taken over the globe and has been officially recognized as a pandemic by the world health organization. The pandemic is unique in the sense that it’s the first time the world has come across a virus that spreads so easily. Researchers have identified microscopic features that could make the pathogen more infectious than the SARS virus and serve as drug targets. The new virus spreads much more readily than the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (also a coronavirus), and has infected more than ten times the number of people who contracted SARS.
Although all countries affected have now imposed lockdowns so as to control the spread of the virus, it has already claimed 2,80,431 lives worldwide. A lot of countries have been economically severely hit, so much so that The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised its global GDP growth estimate from 3.3% just 3 months ago to a contraction of 3%, something not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s [source : The Economic times].
India in particular announced a complete lockdown on March 25, 2020, this lead to a mass displacement of migrant workers all across the country. Since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24 to deal with the corona virus pandemic, all business and economic activity has come to a virtual standstill, leaving migrant workers with no work. Most of them are daily wage earners who live a hand to mouth existence in big cities, and cannot afford to pay rent or buy food unless they earn. Many people were seen trying to walk on the railway track at Anand Vihar to go their home towns in Uttar Pradesh. According to police, around 10,000 to 15,000 people had assembled at Anand Vihar on March 28. Around 60 to 70 buses ferried as many passengers as they could. Till midnight, around 500 more buses were supposed to reach Delhi and evacuate the migrant workers.
People who couldn’t take buses or did not have access to any other means of transport simply decided to walk to their respective states with some people even having to walk as far as 500 km from Delhi to their village. Similar states of affairs were observed throughout different states, of workers trying to reach their homes. The worst hit in the pandemic are the poor, daily wage workers, who have no choice but to get to the villages so as to survive even if it means walking mile long distances on foot, through the blistering heat. Three migrant workers who were on their way to Madhya Pradesh from Mumbai died of dehydration and fatigue when they reached their state. A truck containing workers to Uttar Pradesh overturns in Madhya Pradesh leading to the death of 5 people. Sixteen migrant workers were mowed down by an empty freight train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district in the early hours of Friday. While 14 of them died on the spot, two of them later succumbed to injuries. These incidents really put things into perspective for us and almost slap our privileges across our faces. Even in times of a global pandemic poverty seem stills seems to be the number one cause for the suffering of the people.
All that was left behind of the workers that were run over on the tracks were some chapaatis that they had with themselves. Hunger, exhaustion and eventually death is what seems to be the fate of the poor in our country, “If I have to die, I would rather be near my parents when I die. I don’t want to die here.” Those were the words of Ramodar, an 18-year-old boy in Mumbai, desperate to go back home in Uttar Pradesh and see his parents. What’s even more unfortunate is that all our politicians manage to do about all this is tweet out their “condolences” online or shift the narrative by giving the whole pandemic a communal angle itself. Remember a statement the Prime minister made back in 2017 about how he wanted the poor to travel by air too. One wonders how that dream of his is working out for him now when people are literally dying on the streets and railway tracks.
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