Human Interest

Life under lockdown: shades of India’s social bias amid Covid-19 fears

By Sarwar Kashani

Noida, India, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Street dogs barking and birds fluttering their wings are the only signs of daytime life these days in an otherwise vibrant suburb full of skyscrapers and swanky malls on the outskirts of the Indian capital.

Noida, a satellite town of Delhi, has almost turned into a ghost town as India drags on with a three-week lockdown to stop the surge of coronavirus cases that have slowly but steadily started taking hold of the densely-populated country of 1.3 billion people.

Occasionally though, there are a few walkers sporting protective face masks, out to buy some groceries during cleaner and brighter mornings as air pollution levels have remarkably come down in the city of tens of thousands of aspiring middle-class families.

“There is fear, the fear of infection. And that is keeping us indoors. But there is a lesson. Life has reduced to its bare minimum and suddenly we realized that it is possible to live like that,” Gaurav Agarwal, who lives with his wife and two daughters in a Noida neighborhood, told EFE.

The 35-year-old works with a multinational company in another satellite town, Gurugram, situated around 60 km (approximately 48 miles) away from his home.

Just like millions of other officegoers in the country, Agarwal has been teleworking since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden decision to impose a 21-day nationwide lockdown on Mar. 24.

The restrictions are aimed at breaking the chain of the transmission of COVID-19, with the virus already infecting over 1,200 patients and resulting in 30 deaths in a country which, according to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, suffers from a level of hunger that is “serious”.

Though the curfew-like lockdown was expected, Modi gave only four hours the people before it came into effect.

This resulted in supply constraints for essential items and panic buying with people buying whatever and as much as they could, even though essential services like food and medicine supplies were exempted from the lockdown.

“For me, it meant a tray of 30 eggs, five kilograms each of potatoes and onions, some beans, lentils and peas, milk powder,” Agarwal said as he prepared for what he called a forced period of “rediscovering life and its meaning”.

For the man and his family, the national lockdown has proved to be a time for recreation, including some reading, a bit of online entertainment and spending time with his family and kids.

But the darker side of the measures has played out brutally on the streets a few kilometers away from Noida.

Tens of thousands of migrant casual workers, who are paid by the day, were forced to start a long, exhausting walk to their home villages with their lives shattered, hours after the prime minister announced the lockdown.

For them, every day of lockdown has meant losing means of livelihood with no buffer or reserves of essentials to sustain them even for a day, let alone three weeks.

The migrant laborers, mostly from the impoverished states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, were left with no option but to set off on foot since all trains and bus services have remained suspended.

The visuals of thousands of men, women, and children marching on either side of the dusty highways triggered fears that it would defeat the very purpose of the lockdown: social distancing.

Over 20 laborers have reportedly died in the past few days as they tried to walk back home hundreds of kilometers away.

Jean Dreze, a Belgian-born Indian economist, said that the crisis of migrant laborers happened due to lack of planning before the government announced the lockdown.

“It was a difficult situation. But there should have been preparations. Without sounding a warning, it is like asking for a disaster,” Dreze told EFE.

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