I was gonna use this blog post to share about the migrant worker woes as there has been multiple stories doing the rounds. For e.g. a story which caught the idea of few people but most of us, i.e. middle-class people are so much into our own thing that we care a fig leaf about what happens to migrants. This should not be a story coming from a humane society but it seems India is no different than any other country of the world and in not a good way. Allow me to share –
Or for those who don’t like youtube, here’s an alternative link
Now the above two editorial shares two stories, one of Trump retaliatory threat to India in the Q&A of the journalist. In fact, Trump has upped the ante on visa sanctions as India buckled so easily under pressure.
There have been other stories doing the rounds how people who have illnesses who need HCQ in India are either dying or are close to death because of unavailability of HCQ in the medicine shop. There have been reports in Pune as well as South Mumbai (one of the poshest localities in Mumbai/Bombay) that medicine shops are running empty or emptier. There have been so many stories on that, with reporters going to shops and asking owners of the medicine shops and shop-owners being clueless.
I think the best article which vividly describes the Government of India (GOI) response to the pandemic is the free-to-read article shared by Arundhati Roy in Financial Times. It has reduced so much of my work or sharing that it’s unbelievable. And she has shared it with pictures and all so I can share other aspects of how the pandemic has been affecting India and bringing the worst out in the Government in its our of need. In fact, not surprisingly though, apparently there was also a pro-Israel similar thing which happened in Africa too . As India has too few friends now globally, hence it decided to give a free pass to them.
Government of India, news agencies and ‘paid News’
One of the attempts the state tried to do, although very late IMHO is that it tried to reach out to the opposition i.e. Congress party and the others. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who is the Congress president asked that the Government should not run any of its ads on private television channels for a period of two years. There had been plenty of articles, both by medianama and others who have alleged that at least from the last 6 odd years, Government ads. comprise of almost 50-60% advertising budget of a channel advertising budget. This has been discussed also in medianama’s roundtable on online content which happened few months back. While an edited version is out there on YT, this was full two day’s event which happened across two different cities.
or the alternative to youtube –
It was as if the roundtable discussions were not enough, Mrs. Gandhi clarion call was answered by News Broadcaster’s Association (NBA) and this is what they had to say –
To put it simply, NBA ‘deplored’ the suggestion by Mrs. Gandhi and even called the economy in recession and all they had were the Government’s own advertising budget to justify their existence. The statements in themselves are highly pregnant and reveal both the relationship that the media, print or mainstream news channels have with the Government of India. Now if you see that, doesn’t it make sense that media always slants the story from the Government’s perspective rather than remaining neutral. If my bread basket were on the onus of me siding with the Govt. that is what most sane persons would do, otherwise they would resign and leave which many reporters who had a conscience did.
Interestingly enough, the NBA statement didn’t just end there but also used the word ‘recession’ , this is the term that Government of India (GOI) hates and has in turn has been maintaining the word, terminology ‘slowdown’ . While from a layman’s perspective the two terms may seem to be similar, if India has indeed been in recession then the tools and the decisions that should have been taken by GOI should have been much different than what they took. Interestingly, enough GOI has refrained from saying anything on the matter which only reveals their own interests in the matter. Also if an association head is making the statement, it is more than likely that he consulted a lawyer or two and used application of mind while drafting the response. In other words, or put more simply, this was a very carefully drafted letter because they know that tomorrow the opposition party may come into power so they don’t want to upset the power dynamics too much.
Privacy issues arising due to the Pandemic
On the same Financial Times, two stories which dealt with the possible privacy violations due to the Pandemic have been doing the rounds. The first one, by Yuval Noah Harari is more exploratory by nature and makes some very good points without going far too deep into specific instances of recent times but rather goes into history and past instances where Governments have used the pandemics to exert more control over their populace and drive their agenda. I especially liked the last few lines which he shared in his op-ed
“Even if the current administration eventually changes tack and comes up with a global plan of action, few would follow a leader who never takes responsibility, who never admits mistakes, and who routinely takes all the credit for himself while leaving all the blame to others.” – Yuval Noah Harari . The whole statement could right fit onto the American President which he was talking about while at the same time, fits right into the current Indian Prime Minister, Boris Johnson of UK and perhaps Jair Bolsanaro of Brazil. All these three-four individuals have in common is that most of them belong to right-wing and hence cater only to the rich industrialist’s agenda. While I don’t know about Jair Bolsanaro much, at least three out of four had to turn to socialism and had to give some bailout packages to the public at large, even though continuing to undermine their own actions. More on this probably a bit down the line.
The second story shared by Nic Fildes and Javier Espinoza who broke the story of various surveillance attempts and the privacy concerns that people have. Even the Indian PMO has asked this data and because there was no protest by the civil society, a token protest was done by COAI (Cellular Operator Association of India) but beyond that nothing, I am guessing because the civil society didn’t make much noise as everybody is busy with their own concerns of safety and things going on, it’s possible that such data may have gone to the Government. There is not much new here that people who had been working on the privacy issues know, it’s just how easy Governments are finding to do it. The part of ‘informed consent’ is really a misnomer . Governments lie all the time, for e.g. in the UK, did the ‘leave’ party and people take informed consent, no they pushed their own agenda. This is and will be similar in many countries of the world.
False Socialism by RW parties
In at least the three countries I have observing, simply due to available time, that lot of false promises are being made by our leaders and more often than not, the bailouts will be given to already rich industrialists. An op-ed by Vivek Kaul, who initially went by his handle शिक्षित बेरोज़गार which means somebody who is educated but unemployed. While Vivek has been one-man army in revealing most of the Government’s mischiefs especially as fudging numbers are concerned among other things, there have been others too. As far as the US is concerned, an e-zine called free press (literally) has been sharing Trump’s hollowness and proclamations for U.S. . Far more interestingly, I found New York times investigated and found a cache of e-mails starting from early January, which they are calling ‘Red Dawn’ . The cache is undeniable proof that medical personnel in the U.S. were very much concerned since January 2020 but it was only after other countries started lock-down that U.S. had to follow suit. I am sure Indian medical professionals may have done similar mail exchanges but we will never know as the Indian media isn’t independent enough.
Domestic violence and Patriarchy
There have been numerous reports of domestic violence against women going up, in fact two prominent publications have shared pieces about how domestic violence has gone up in India since the lockdown but the mainstream press is busy with its own tropes, the reasons already stated above. In fact, interestingly enough, most women can’t wear loose fitting clothes inside the house because of the near ones being there 24×7 . This was being shared as India is going through summer where heat waves are common and most families do not have access to A/C’s and rely on either a fan or just ventilation to help them out. I can’t write more about this as simply I’m not a woman so I haven’t had to face the pressures that they have to every day. Interestingly though, there was a piece shared by arre. Interestingly, also arre whose content I have shared a few times on my blog has gone from light, funny to be much darker and more serious tone. Whether this is due to the times we live in is something that a social scientist or a social anthropologist may look into in the times to come.
One of the good things though, there hasn’t been any grid failures as no industrial activity is happening (at all). In fact SEB’s (State Electricity Boards) has shown a de-growth in electricity uptake as no industrial activity has been taken. While they haven’t reduced any prices (which they ideally should have) as everybody is suffering.
Loot and price rise
Again, don’t think it is an Indian issue but perhaps may be the same globally. Because of broken supply chains, there are both real and artificial shortages happening which is leading to reasonable and unreasonable price hikes in the market. Fresh veggies which were normally between INR 10/- to INR 20/- for 250 gm have reached INR 40/- 50/- and even above. Many of the things that we have to become depend upon are not there anymore. The shortage of plastic bottles being case in point.
This and many others like these pictures have been shared on social media but it seems the Government is busy doing something else. The only thing we know for sure is that the lock-down period is only gonna increase, no word about PPE’s (Personal Protection Equipment) or face masks or anything else. While India has ordered some, those orders are being diverted to US or EU. In fact, many doctors who have asked for the same have been arrested, sacked or suspended for asking such inconvenient questions, although whether in BJP ruled states or otherwise. In fact, the Centre has suspended MPLADS funds , members of parliament get funds which they can use to provide relief work or whatever they think the money is best to spend upon.
Conditions of Labor in the Pandemic
Another sort of depressing story has been how the Supreme Court CJI Justice SA Bobde has made statements and refrained from playing any role in directing the Center to provide relief to the daily wage laborers. In fact, Mr. Bobde made statements such as why they need salaries if they are getting food. This was shared by barandbench, a site curated by lawyers and reporters alike. Both livelaw as well as barandbench have worked to enhance people’s awareness about the legal happenings in our High Courts and Supreme Court. And while sadly, they cannot cover all, they at least do attempt to cover a bit of what’s ‘hot’ atm.
The Chief Justice who draws a salary of INR 250,000 per month besides other perks is perhaps unaware or doesn’t care about fate of millions of casual workers, 400 – 460 million workers who will face abject poverty and by extension even if there are 4 members of the family so probably 1.2 billion people will fall below the poverty line. Three, four major sectors are going to be severely impacted, namely Agriculture, Construction and then MSME (Micro, small and medium enterprises) which cover everything from autos, industrial components, FMCG, electronics, you name it, it’s done by the MSME sector. We know that the Rabi crop, even though it was gonna be a bumper crop this year will rot away in the fields. Even the Kharif crop whose window for sowing is at the most 2-3 weeks will not be able to get it done in time. In fact, with the extended lockdown of another 21 days, people will probably return home after 2 months by which time they would have nothing to do there as well as here in the cities. Another good report was done by the wire, the mainstream media has already left the station.
Ministry of Public Health
There was an article penned by Dr. Edmond Fernandes which he published last year. The low salary along with the complexities that Indian doctors are and may face in the near future are just mind-boggling.
Losses have already started pouring in. Just today Air Deccan has ceased all its operations. I had loved Mr. Gopinath’s airline which was started in the early 2000’s. While I won’t bore you with the history, most of it can be seen from simplify Deccan . This I believe is just the start and it’s only after the few months after the lock-down has been lifted would we really know the true extent of losses everywhere. And the more lenghthier the lockdown, the more difficult it would be businesses to ramp back. People have already diagnosed at the very least 15-20 sectors of the economy which would be hit and another similar or more number of sectors which will have first and second-order of losses and ramp-downs. While some guesses are being made, many are wildly optimistic and many are wildly pessimistic, as shared we would only know the results when the lockdown is opened up.
Predictions for the future
While things are very much in the air, some predictions can be made or rationally deduced. For instance, investments made in automation and IT would remain and perhaps even accelerate a little. Logistics models would need to be re-worked and maybe, just maybe there would be talk and action in making local supply chains a bit more robust. Financing is going to be a huge issue for at least 6 months to a year. Infrastructure projects which require huge amount of cash upfront will either have to be re-worked or delayed, how they will affect projects like Pune Metro and other such projects only time will tell.
Raghuram Rajan was recently asked if he would come back and let bygones be bygones. Raghuram in his own roundabout way said no. He is right now with Chicago Booth doing the work that he always love. Why would he leave that and be right in the middle of the messes other people have made. He probably gets more money, more freedom and probably has a class full of potential future economists.
Immigration Control, Conferences and thought experiment
There are so many clueless people out there, who don’t know why it takes so long for any visa to be processed. From what little I know, it is to verify who you say you are and you have valid reason to enter the country. The people from home ministry verify credentials, as well as probably check with lists of known criminals and their networks world-wide. They probably have programs for such scenarios and are part and parcel of their everyday work. The same applies to immigration control at Airports. there has been a huge gap at immigration counters and the numbers of passengers who were flying internationally to and fro from India. While in India, we call them as Ministry of Home Affairs, in U.S. it’s Department of Homeland security, other countries using similar jargons.
Now even before this pandemic happened, the number of people who are supposed to do border control and check people was way less and there have been scenes of ‘Air rage’ especially in Indian airports after people came after a long-distance flight.
Now there are couple of thought experiments, just day before yesterday scientists discovered six new coronaviruses in bats and scientists in Iceland found 40 odd mutations of the virus on people. Now are countries going to ban people from Iceland as in time the icelandic people probably would have anti-bodies on all the forty odd mutations. Now if and when they come in contact onto others who have not, what would happen ? And this is not specifically about one space or ethnicity or whatever, microbes and viruses have been longer on earth than we have. In our greed we have made viruses resistant to antibiotics. While Mr. Trump says as he discovered it today, this has been known to the medical fraternity since tht 1950’s. CDC’s own chart shows it. We cannot live in fear of a virus, the only way we can beat it is by understanding it and using science. Jon Cohen shared some of the incredible ways science is looking to beat this thing
or as again an alternative to youtube –
One of the most troubling question is how the differently-abled communities which don’t have media coverage at the best of times, haven’t had any media coverage at all during the pandemic. What are their stories and what they are experiencing ? How are they coping ? Are there anyways we could help each other ? By not having those stories, we perhaps have left them more vulnerable than we intend. And what does that speak about us, as people or as a community or a society ?
While there is not a lot to be positive about, one interesting project I came about is openbreath.tech . This is an idea, venture started by IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) , IUCAA (Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics). They are collaborating with octogeneraian Capt (Retd) Rustom Barucha from Barucha Instrumentation and Control, besides IndoGenius, New Delhi, and King’s College, London. The first two institutes are from my home town, Pune. While I don’t know much of the specifics of this idea other than that there is an existing Barucha ventilator which they hope to open-source and make it easier for people to produce their own. While I have more questions than answers at this point, this is something hopefully to watch out for in the coming days and weeks.
The other jolly bit of good news has come from Punjab where after several decades, people in Northern Punjab are finally able to see the Himalayas or the Himalayan mountain range.
There you have it, What I have covered is barely scratching the surface. As a large section of the media only focuses on one narrative, other stories and narratives are lost. Be safe, till later.