The Covid-19 Lockdown and the Need for Accountability

The Covid-19 Lockdown and the Need for Accountability

The first week itself of the lockdown showed us the lack of infrastructure in our country- may it be the Healthcare system, arranging to send the migrant population home or a systematic plan to deal with the Covid-19 crises. Thus, began one of the most severe humanitarian crises of recent times – the migrant exodus. Kindness and humanity are found sparsely in our cities. Thus, thousands of people, the lifelines of our cities, were forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes.


Community kitchens, shelter homes, distribution of sanitary products and ration became the need of the hour. With thousands of daily wagers losing their livelihoods, hunger became the imminent threat to deal with. The Delhi government was clueless on how to organize community kitchens. The NGO’s who have great community contact, went door to door to collect ration and set up kitchens. They were harassed for not having travel permits, but some of the police force was kinder and understood the need of the hour. The middle class was relatively generous, like in most disasters, and donated supplies in cash and kind. Many houses even gave a room to be converted into a temporary godown to store raw material like aata, etc. It was again the NGO’s who started contacting corporates and crowd-funding platforms. A lot of money was needed to sustain these efforts. No bureaucrat was accessible in the first week of the lockdown. The last mile bureaucrat offices were closed. All this ensued more panic and chaos amongst the most-affected communities of the daily-wagers.


By the second week of the lockdown, the community kitchens funded by the Delhi government were given money and permits to start operation. But the money depended on the number of people who were given free meal boxes. This gave rise to corruption as the only parameter set was the number of boxes distributed. The quality and quantity of food was not monitored. By the end of the second week, the migrant labour was tired of begging for food from the community kitchens. The meals they received had been small and of poor quality. The ration shops were either closed or had only flour for sale. Hunger led them to flee and they were forced to leave Delhi and walk to their villages. 


The government officials were informed about the problems rising at the community kitchens and the difficulty in access to food. But no action was taken. The entire emphasis remained on running the ration shops and community kitchens with a focus on only increasing the number of meals that were distributed. More than 20 information circulars were passed on the regulation for these services which confused everyone – from the people running the kitchens and shops, to the beneficiaries. Even the police was unsure about the exact procedure to follow. This led to a series of events of one upmanship between the stakeholder groups that had any kind of power.   


At the end of the month of the lockdown, pictures and videos started flowing in on social media of throngs of migrants walking on highways, planning on reaching from Bombay to Bihar, from Delhi to Odisha, from Ludhiana to Madhya Pradesh – journeys spanning thousands of kilometers. They were ill equipped for such a tortuous journey. Images of women with children, pregnant women giving birth under a tree, elder citizens, men walking with their dog embraced in their arms started shaking the country. These people had to walk, losing most of their belongings, without any access to water to drink or for their sanitation needs, bearing the heat and days of hunger, with just one aim- to reach home. Some government operated kitchens were set up on the highways to aid these people but many had rotten food being served. The police exploited the groups of migrants, treating them harshly at every blockade. Questions rose about Indian citizens being airlifted from foreign countries but no action being taken for the Indian citizens who were suffering within the country. The bureaucrats remained silent. The government failed us.  But the NGO’s did come to the forefront, we raised money from crowd-funding campaigns and corporates, distributed packaged food, biscuits, juices, water and sanitizers. But alas, the NGO’s have limited funds and limited reach. It’s a disjointed system of each organization more often than not, doing more than our capacities. But the social sector can never fulfill the role of the government. We need active action from both sides to create any kind of relief and positive impact.


The Congress party workers also took very little action. Congress grass root workers kept waiting for the go-ahead from their party leaders. The party leaders remained inactive offering one of the weakest opposition governments in history. The RSS too remained elusive in Delhi. The power struggle in the Capital continued between the State and Central governments. Their focus remained on creating a political opportunity from this humanitarian disaster. 


We at Conserve India, to a large extent were successful in bringing few important bureaucrats on our whatsapp platform, mostly because it is non-political and because of our personal relationships. The bureaucrats were happy to answer questions as private citizens rather than as officers. Some policy-makers even packaged and sent out food from their own kitchens, made large donations and tried to keep the community at peace. These officers want to remain anonymous as this was done as an individual effort on a personal front. The government cumulatively took little action and that too in an ineffective and disgruntled manner. 


What does this tell us about our democracy? Is it all just a question of our socio-economic classes? Were the migrant population only a load on Delhi’s Healthcare facilities or do we just not care about the poor? Doesn’t our democracy stand for equal rights for all citizens? Had it been the election year, would their actions have been different? Can we still even call India a democracy? 


The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many flaws in our system. It’s our chance to correct them, and fight for our democracy, fight for our country. Haven’t we all felt proud of talking about the “unity in diversity” in India? It is time for us to really make that a reality. Demand accountability from your local leaders and country leaders, from the media and the justice system. Stand-up for the less-fortunate and believe in true equality without the fallacies of gender, wealth, caste and religion. Let’s work together to keep our democracy alive.

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