Lockdown—a necessity for the rich, a time bomb for the poor?

New Delhi: Be it today or pre-pandemic days, the rich have always had it good for the most part. With this coronavirus pandemic, the odds have never been more in their favour.

For them, boredom, depression, binge eating to alleviate both and the (in)convenience of working with colleagues are particularly vexing. Yet these are merely first world problems in a third-world country for those who are fortunate enough to partake in social distancing.

What about those whose lives are ensconced in a little hut with multiple family members or others who live in such close quarters?

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More often than not, it is these people who always served with a raw deal. When a riot hits, such folks are the ones who suffer. The next two weeks will be even more trying for these people and who knows how much will be able to take?

Maybe another few weeks of isolation ought to answer this question.

No one will suffer more than the lower-stratum of society — many of whom come from certain religious, ethnic and caste communities.

For instance, many migrant and local workers reside in slums of their own native cities and the shantytowns of the ones they migrate to. Many of these people are waiters at restaurants, drivers of various types of rickshaws, domestic help and performers of other menial labour. A recent Al-Jazeera report narrates the story of a Kumar, a cycle-rickshaw driver whose daily income amounts to about Rs. 300. He was not among the huge exodus of workers who are making the grueling trek back home to far-flung northern parts of the capital due to the hasty implementation of the lockdown. Kumar and his family are stuck in Delhi in their slum with little recourse to substantive relief packages from the government or the ability to “work from home” via Zoom or Skype.

In an article for VICE.com, Jawaharlal University Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning Jayati Ghosh was quoted saying “During the period of a pandemic, people become very self-oriented and develop self-preservation instincts for themselves and their family. They develop anger against anybody else outside their ambit. This can easily take a vicious turn.”

While civil society has stepped up through initiatives by the noble charitable acts of high net worth individuals, NGOs and other relatively fortunate citizens, food and financial donations can only reach so many in need. How many people are willing and/or able to turn their abodes into camps?

Ghosh also states that this pandemic will exacerbate fault lines already apparent throughout society. She adds, “During the period of a pandemic, people become very self-oriented and develop self-preservation instincts for themselves and their family. They develop anger against anybody else outside their ambit. This can easily take a vicious turn.”

In the VICE article linked above, Pallavi Pundir points out that this vicious turn materialized in the form of certain prison riots throughout Italy. Although one might cite a limited sample, the small number of prison setting and differences in the Indian and Italian landscape, the riots that took place in 27 prisons across Italy are cause for concern in India as well.

Plus, many Northeast Delhi riot victims have not even finished licking their wounds as they are still living in crowded relief camps. The mere thought of the lockdown kicking in these self-preservation tendencies could fuel further resentment and thereby contribute to deeper class segmentation.

After all, for no fault of their own, the poor are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 containment efforts. That too, one which only a certain stratum of people who possess the luxury of traveling abroad fanned by unwittingly turning the coronavirus in to a passenger.

In the United States, to avoid any sort of backlash that could result from the unrest of the homeless population or stray-drunkards, many mall entrances and shops have been barricaded. Hence, despite the restlessness it might bring about its own marginalized population, such blockading is much easier to carry out in the US than India. This because in India, unlike the West, malls and apartments of all sorts are closely situated to each other. Currently, Indian cities are blockading many urban and suburban neighbourhoods.

Until this lockdown ends, all one can do for these poor people is pray and partake in charity until the country limps back to normalcy. Who knows how long that could take?

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