A year on, coronavirus lockdown continues to haunt India’s poor

By Indira Guerrero

New Delhi, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- India on Thursday completed a year since the government locked down its 1.35 billion citizens to contain the coronavirus outbreak, triggering social and economic chaos that left many jobless and pushed millions into poverty.

The anniversary of the tumultuous nationwide confinement measure comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths, sparking fears of new curbs, more economic disorder, and impoverishment.

The effects of the sudden lockdown last year were unmistakably more atrocious for the poor, like laborers and farmers, in the world’s second-most populous country.

On a bright and sunny morning, Sita, a vegetable farmer, is sitting in her field, gazing at a ripe crop of cauliflowers.

In her thick arms, she is carrying her 11-month-old son, who was born on the eve of the harvest season, now better known as the coronavirus times.

She looks at the crop with hope of better times than the last year.

But it still won’t be the same because she says she is “poorer” than she was a year ago.

A Pew survey released earlier this week estimated that the number of the poor in India – those earning less than $2 a day – has increased by 75 million due to the recession caused by the lockdown.

The figure represents “almost 60 percent of the global increase in poverty,” according to the survey.

The findings indicated that the middle class in India is estimated to have shrunk by 32 million in 2020 due to the downturn, compared with the number it may have reached in the absence of the pandemic.

“(It) accounts for 60 percent of the global retreat in the number of people in the middle-income tier (people with incomes of $10.01-$20 a day),” the report said.

Deepak, a 22-year-old teacher, said that comparing Covid-19 and the lockdown was like comparing apples and oranges because the two tragedies affected different social strata differently.

“I think Covid mostly affected the upper class. But the lockdown affected the lower classes. It caused unemployment, unhappiness,” he said.

On the other hand, Sita is experiencing a deja vu as she hears the news that India has been logging more than 40,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the past many weeks.

She dreads the idea of a new lockdown because that reminds her of the rotten smell of her unsold cauliflower crop a year ago.

“The crop got destroyed and we had to throw it away when it did not sell, even though we spent a lot of money on it,” she told EFE.

For her, the economic blow and starvation have been deadlier than the virus.

“We haven’t seen corona. We don’t know how it is. But everyone knows about hunger,” she said.

The government started easing the confinement measures in last June, but the resumption of economic activities began gradually even as the poor suffered an irreparable setback.

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