A narrative is going on in the air. Each mainstream party has more or less succumbed to the narrative that it’s not the right time to speak against the government. Actually, it’s not only the right time to speak up but also the appropriate moment to roar so loudly that it pierces into the sleeping conscience and thoughts of all the classes of social hierarchy. The collective conscience of Indian citizens didn’t rise when demonetisation happened, not in the triple talaq bill, not in the revocation of Article 370, not at the time when the last nail was being incised on the coffin of Indian democracy through the new citizenship matrix, and not in the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi.
It may sound insensitive to the cosy comfortable ears of the privileged world, but it’s the right time to build opinion and to reach the grassroots. There is now one enemy, an organism that is the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Our miserable public healthcare system
The annual data released by the Indian government for the year 2017-18 records that the government spending on healthcare was just 1.28% of the GDP. Whereas India’s “good friend”, if not the best, the USA spent 17.7% of its GDP in healthcare at the same time. Even neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka (1.68%), Nepal (1.17%), Indonesia (1.40%) are far better than India as Hindustan Times reports. This data shows the government’s apathy and lack of commitment towards public healthcare. Now when Indians are busy in collecting the per-hourly COVID-19 infection data, a different yet spine-chilling data will raise the eyebrows of many. According to the National Health Profile data, India had 41,996,260 cases and 3,740 deaths from acute respiratory infections in 2018. The UNICEF, in its own assessment, has put India in the second rank in terms of the deaths caused by pneumonia. Mostly children under the age of two succumbed to this disease. India accounts for nearly 127,000 deaths owing to pneumonia, which keeps it far ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Only Nigeria fares worse with 162,000 deaths.
The United Nations rightly puts the cause:
“Lack of access to drinking water, inadequate health care, and the burden of undernutrition and indoor air pollution are major drivers of vulnerability to the disease. Around half of all pneumonia-related deaths are associated with air pollution.”
So India’s failed public healthcare and the failed state allow children, of course, the less fortunate ones, to die of pneumonia without proper infrastructure. The next data is stunning enough to turn the self-styled utensil-clanging “patriots” insomniac. When they boast of Indian business tycoons making their way into the list of the richest people in the world, one among two Indian women between the age of 15 and 49 years are suffering from the lack of adequate blood; Indian children are at the receiving end too, as 60% children between six to 49 months are anaemic. Hold your armchairs tight, the next data may shock you even more if you have an iota of humanity left within you. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018 India had 2.69 million tuberculosis (TB) cases, out of which 440,000 people died and the figure will be much higher if the number of patients who had both HIV and TB is added. The inaccessible public healthcare system, rapid privatisation of healthcare, lack of healthcare professionals, labourers working in a toxic environment, unhealthy living conditions and lack of proper nutritious food kill Indian people due to TB.
Now everyone is worried because, unlike TB, the COVID-19 has a democratic way of infecting both rich and poor. So, everyone is trying to gauge how much efficient the Indian healthcare system is and whether it’s fully ready if there is an epidemic outbreak like in China, Iran, Italy or the US? Barring this, the Indian elites or urban upper-middle class never give a damn about the public healthcare system, unless they can make money out of people’s agony. It’s the right time to write, to raise voices, to invade into the comfort zones of the middle-class people to shake them up from the religious hypnotism of the government to tell them that the system has failed, that the successive governments have failed India’s 90%. To bring them back to the reality of the ground from the cacophonic news channels some dedicated voices and honest souls are required. People with a spine and a spirit must rise and smack on the face of the existing system of exploitation and give a narrative of substance and not divert people with a hyperbolic pseudo-nationalistic one.
Divided by many ways United by Fear
The fear of death is lurking in everyone’s mind. Dissatisfaction is visible at the grassroots. A sudden decision of a lockdown and overtly zealot police with its brutalisation have made the lives of the marginalised people hell. The daily wage earners, the migrant labourers and even a section of the middle class are suffering due to the lack of proper planning on the part of the government. So, it’s the right time to shout out what is wrong, what has led India to this abysmal situation of a nose-diving economy and skyrocketing exploitation. To tell the people the saga of corporate loot, corruption and capitalism, it’s the time to work together to find the poor, the dalits, adivasis, and marginalised people, their path to emancipation from the black hole of the system.
All the mainstream parties, be it the parliamentary left, the right or the centre, have failed the people. Despite the change in shade or rhetoric or faces, the nature of the rule remains the same. Even in the time of a pandemic, as historian Ram Chandra Guha has rightly said, the government is endorsing the personality cult by giving the name of the fund for COVID-19 relief as “PM CARES”, as if nobody else cares except Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Millions of labourers are going to be jobless, a large number of people, who don’t have access to clean drinking water, sanitisation, three meals a day (leave alone nutritious) are on the verge of extinction. It’s a luxury telling them to sanitise their hands and wear masks. The great Indian exodus of migrant labourers is the tip of the iceberg. In the days to come, India will go through a massive economic catastrophe, which will widen the gap between the rich and the poor. When the migrant labourers are walking for thousands of kilometres to reach their native villages, to save themselves from an imminent starvation death in the cities, they are fogged with toxic chemicals under the garb of sanitising them. The same government didn’t fog the rich and upper-middle class men and women who brought COVID-19 infection from other countries and spread it through their callous attitude. This shows how in the future the poor will be treated worse than the cattle.
Educate the masses
The malware installed in the susceptible minds of the common masses through the corporate-controlled media should be replaced by the knowledge of history, struggle for rights and the spirit of freedom.Those who have not yet sold the power of their words to broker a deal with the system, should rise up and write, speak and yell in lucid languages, in the languages of the masses to reach the common people, to agitate the people at the grassroots. It’s not the time for “social distancing”, as it will make us “anti-social”, rather for physical distancing and social bonding. Using virtual platforms, using the limited means available to them, with the help of others, those with a voice can reach out to the voiceless and marginalised to show them the glimpse of the grotesque future planned for them. The more they will reach, the more they will prepare others.
If it’s not possible to become a prairie fire, then it’s better to be the spark or a lot of sparks, because they can combine together to become the flame that can burn down the system of injustice and exploitation that doesn’t give food to the poor and serves the corporates, burns houses to build statues, displaces people to place the empire of exploitation, makes people walk for thousands of miles and murders 22 people like wanton boys kill flies. It’s the system that asks the people to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the healthcare professionals by clanging utensils and then sends them to the battlefront without providing minimum equipment and forces them to treat patients wearing raincoats and helmets!
Efforts are needed to change the manifesto which gives emphasis on making altars of prayer than making hospitals. The awakening of the people is crucial to change the dominant narrative. The basic rights of “Roti, Kapda, Makaan” (food, clothing and shelter) must be demanded as they remain a distant dream for the majority of Indians even after 72 years of the so-called independence. Ernesto Che Guevara said: “The revolution is made through human beings, but individuals must forge their revolutionary spirit day by day.”
It’s time to unite, day by day, and raise voice to give the voiceless a chance to live a life of dignity. One can’t afford to fail them, as it will mean failing one’s conscience. The time is ripe to take protests and struggles to a higher level by engaging the common people.
Moumita Alam is a non-conformist. She writes about the exploitation of the marginalised. As a teacher and a poet, her pen flares up against all forms of oppression. She loves to read when not writing and she thinks critically about the socio-political aspects of life. Keen to change the society to an egalitarian one for the present have-nots.