-By Ruchira Gupta
As I drove back through the empty streets, thinking of the 2,0000 women in line waiting for food, in the capital of India, I pondered on the injustice of it all. Did this have to be? Was the only way to avoid Covid-19 to stop street transportation, shut shops, and unleash the police on helpless people?
When my car stopped at a traffic light, I saw a young – maybe twenty years old- migrant worker sobbing. He was telling the police that his daily wages had stopped, he could not pay rent, his landlord had evicted him, he had nowhere to live in Delhi and that he was trying to walk back to his village 1200 kilometres away. The police hit him with a baton as I watched.
Why was the government treating Covid as a law and order problem rather than a public health crisis?
As my car my restarted, I heard a notification alert on my phone. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter update popped up. It said #9pm9minutes. On April 3, 2020, the Prime Minister had urged 1.3 billion people to light lamps, candles or flash mobile or torch light for nine minutes at their homes from 9 pm on Sunday. Today was the day. On March 23, 2020, he had asked everyone to beat a stainless-steel plate.
Why was he not sharing information on health systems he was going to put into place? Why was he prioritising symbolism and PR over action?
I watched with horror as so many of my sister’s neighbours came out on their roofs and verandahs to beat stainless steel plates and light candles. The PM led the way by lighting a lamp in a broadcast to the nation.
Now, in May 2021, as the second wave of Covid-19 consumes friends and family, and I again get SOS messages for food and medicines from vulnerable children who have lost a parent or parents who have lost jobs, I have five questions of the Prime Minister:
- Why did you treat a public health crisis as a law and order problem?
- Why did you not listen to expert health advice and monitor the situation daily?
- What did you do with the PMCares Fund you collected for Covid Relief?
- What did you do to create more hospital beds and onboard more medical workers?
- Where are the vaccines you promised?