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The grim reality of the successive waves of the Coronavirus pandemic is that the brunt of it is being borne mostly by the economically weaker section of society.
In the midst of second wave of the Corona pandemic and its related confusing guidelines from the State and Central administrations, various reports on the economic hardships that this pandemic has brought to the country over the past one year, are being published in the newspapers one after the other. Invariably, all of these reports acknowledge severe job losses in unorganised sectors, which has collaterally damaged the future prospects of the poor at large.
Firstly, according to Economic Survey of 2020-21, some of the jobs lost during the lockdown are less likely to return even after the situation improves. Furthermore, a survey report of the Delhi government says that over 56% of the capital’s unemployed have been jobless for the past 6 months.
According to a report by the Karnataka State Garments Workers’ Union, about 50 to 62% of labourers’ working in garment factories in Bengaluru have lost their jobs. A survey by ActionAid India found that 80% of people working in unorganised sectors have lost their jobs.
To sum up, these and many other reports highlight the gravity of the job loss among poor and how it is affecting their daily survival. These surveys further reveal that, many of them have stopped sending their children to schools. So, the present financial crisis is slowly pushing the poor children to child labour, girls to flesh trade and men to lifelong slavery.
In contrast, the recent edition of Forbes magazine reports that India, with its 140 billionaires, now has the third highest number of billionaires in the world now. Further, Mukesh Ambani has become Asia’s richest and Adani is the second richest Indian at present. This news is quite astonishing, especially at a time like this, when the whole country is in financial distress. But our billionaires are almost unaffected! In fact, they are becoming richer and their number is increasing.
So, it is one more instance to understand that, any calamity either man-made or natural, affects poor in general and the rich remain largely unaffected. Because they know how to thrive with the blessing of the systems they have funded. For instance, we hear that a lot mining activities, which were closed down due to environmental issues, have resumed quietly. Sadly, these things are not discussed in public, as people are either immune to public issues until it reaches their doorsteps or they also want to make a portion of the heyday.
At times like this, of health and financial emergency, our public discussions should focus on estimation of overall financial loss and the efficient measures to recover from the crisis, statistics of job loss in each sector and its resurrection, effective implementation of pandemic guidelines and vaccination drive.
As the second wave of pandemic appears to hit harder than the first one, the worsened situation preempts to think that further restrictions might become necessary, but at the cost of already financially vulnerable classes. As a matter of fact, they were the ones who sat at home following social distancing, sacrificing their livelihood. So, if the governments don’t ensure proper job and food security for them now, there would be more suicides due to hunger, unemployment or loans, more than the pandemic related deaths.
Meanwhile, we witness some strange phenomenon happening around us. Our electronic media is in election frenzy mood, where public rallies have thrown all social distancing guidelines to air. Whereas, the common people who are out struggling to meet their daily needs are fined for not following pandemic guidelines. Surprisingly, these media houses have no say about this.
Similarly, the street vendors and daily wagers don’t get enough business at the end of the day, whereas the middle class is apathetically busy shopping in big shopping complexes, seduced by the attractive offerings of corporate houses. In an emergency situation like this, if we don’t show empathy to our fellow citizens, so that they can also survive, when will our conscience awaken? Here, we need to understand that street vendors and daily wagers are the ones whose work relied on direct face-to-face communication with their customers, are the most affected in pandemic crisis. Additionally, their low incomes hampered any attempts to explore alternative means of livelihood. In this context, it is also our social responsibility to understand their struggles to survive.
In this context, the government needs to come out of its election hangover and set some transparent and sincere efforts in place, in order to drive the economy back on track. Additionally, we need more of compassionate community efforts to support fellow citizens to live with dignity.
Image courtesy: Gwydion M. Williams on Flickr
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Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University College of Science, Tumkur University. Has been
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