At War with the Unseen: COVID-19 and Its Effects (Part 1)

It’s 6 o’clock in the evening. There is peace and stillness all around. So crisp and the fresh air I breathe in, no traffic, and no incessant whirring. All shops – except for a few that offer basic essentials – are shut down. No kids are vying each other on their bicycles; the parks and playground are empty.

Is it really 6 o’clock in the morning? Surely not, this fresh breeze and the silence suggest that it could very well have been 6 in the morning. No rush for idlis or dosas in those undersized “bandis” or tiffin shops, no momos and ice cream stalls are lined near the pavement. Only a policeman is patrolling the streets with his mask firmly in place.

The lovely weather, the fresh and green leaves on the trees, and the mysteriously consoling quietness far and wide almost makes me think that there’s nothing wrong with the world. Because my mind is quick to respond to the urge to ink down my surroundings in poetry, praising nature and humans. My roommate, at that moment, though, was conscientiously busy in sanitizing all the items she purchased from a local shop to have enough groceries for these 21 days nationwide lock-down. All the educational institutions, government and private offices, malls and transportation services, are bolted – with the exception of few important services like hospitals, banks, gas stations – in an endeavor to help people from this curse of the novel Coronavirus that has infected 56,342 people until May 8th, when I submitted this blog post. (1)

Different states have implemented lockdown rules in varying degrees. For instance, the Delhi government has allowed shops selling essential items to operate round the clock so that there is no rush of people in the wake of 21-days lockdown. (2) In Tamil Nadu, provisional stores, vegetable and fruit shops, and petrol pumps are functioning only between 6 am to 2.30 pm while medical and restaurants (only takeaways) are opened throughout the day. (3) Still, both state and central governments are questing new measures to battle COVID-19. It is as if this situation has taken us into another world, where everything is uncertain about what will happen next. In just a matter of months, the whole world has been transformed. Thousands of people have been died and hundreds of thousands of more people have fallen under the weather, from an unseen thing which at first appeared in Wuhan and spread like fire across the whole world. All are rushing back to their homes to be with their loved ones. Those who couldn’t make it are waiting for a ray of hope in this dark. The streets of Wuhan and Italy are deserted; the music in London’s pubs and bars is longer heard, the loud call of street vendors and that maddening noise of India’s traffic can’t be seen anymore. It is all meant to control the spread of COVID-19, and hopefully reducing the death toll.

With at least 1.3 billion Indians going into lockdown, an estimated 25% of rural households and 12% of urban households rely on the casual labors. But it doesn’t mean that other jobs are secured. Over 70% of salaried employees in the non-agricultural sector had no written contracts, and over half were not eligible for paid leave. (4) Even the demand for employment has been increasing under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA), but there’s no work. (5) While many of us have the privilege to work from home and find it difficult to stay safe at home, there are millions of daily wage laborers, migrant laborers from construction sites, single women, elderly, transgender and a whole of lot of others who are terribly affected by the economic and social repercussions of this ongoing unprecedented crisis. At the other end of the spectrum, these people are struggling to make ends meet. With this lockdown, they’ve not only run out of work but have also lost their only means to obtain a square meal for themselves and their families.

Although both state and central government are working hard for them, but there are some organizations came into the forefront to provide relief to these people, like the American India Foundation and my fellowship host organization, SAFA. At SAFA, when we heard about this massive lockdown, the first thing that came in our minds was the daily wager. How will they manage during the lockdown?

Consequently, we unquestionably fired up a nationwide campaign called “Youthfeed India” to provide dry ration provision packs to those who are starving and cannot afford to work from home due the lockdown. These include daily wagers, migrant workers, and single mothers who are struggling to bring a single meal on the table and can’t even buy essential medicines. On 22nd March, we started with an aim to distribute 5000 packs impacting over 25,000 needy people across the nation. Instantaneously, our campaign caught attention of Sania Mirza, a famous tennis player, who helped us in taking this movement to the next level. (6) Till 30th of April, we have been able to distribute 60,000 packs impacting over 300,000 people with about 42,00,000 meals in Hyderabad, Delhi, North Karnataka, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon, and Pondicherry. For distribution, we maintained a strict safety protocol to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t spread. The initiative gained worldwide attention and support from a number of celebrities like Sania Mirza, Abhishek Bachchan, Juhi Chawla, Farah Khan, Gauahar Khan, Dia Mirza, Huma Qureshi, Neha Dhupia – and the list goes on. We aren’t the only one, but there are hundreds of organizations  working towards the same cause. Take time to support one of them.


References:

  1. “Coronavirus Latest Updates: 5 Hospitals Approved to Join WHO’s Solidarity Trial.” Times of India, 8 May 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/coronavirus-latest-updates-50-virus-strains-in-india-have-new-spike-mutation/articleshow/75615601.cms
  2. PTI. “Corona Lockdown: Shops Selling Essentials Will Remain Open Round the Clock.” Economic Times, 26 March 2020. https://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/corona-lockdown-shops-selling-essentials-will-remain-open-round-the-clock-says-delhi-lg/amp_articleshow/74825896.cms
  3. Jesudasan, Dennis S. “Coronavirus Lockdown: Grocers, Fuel Pumps in Tamil Nadu to Be Open from 6 am to 2: 30 pm from March 29.” The Hindu, 28 March 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tamil-nadu-govt-sets-operation-time-for-shops-selling-essential-commodities-food-delivery-services/article31185742.ece
  4. Rukmini S. “Lockdown to Fight Coronavirus is Going to Hit Most Indian Workers Very Hard.” Livemint, 23 March 2020. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/lockdown-to-fight-coronavirus-is-going-to-hit-most-indian-workers-very-hard-11584940247186.html
  5. Nahata, Pallavi, and Nikunj Ohri. “India Lockdown: Double Whammy for Daily Wage Workers as Work Stops under MNGREGA.” BloombergQuint, 25 March 2020. https://www.bloombergquint.com/coronavirus-outbreak/india-lockdown-double-whammy-for-daily-wage-workers-as-work-stops-under-mgnrega
  6. TNN. “Hyderabad: Sania Mirza on a Mission to Feed Those in Need.” Times of India, 8 April 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/sania-on-a-mission-to-feed-those-in-need/articleshow/75037188.cms

Mantasha is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with SAFA in Hyderabad, Telangana. For her Fellowship project, she is designing a communication strategy for engaging illiterate and semi-literate women and children at skills training centers and for publicizing program impact externally. Born and raised in a small district in western Uttar Pradesh, Mantasha pursued her education from Aligarh Muslim University. She graduated in English Literature in 2015, pursued a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2016, and completed her Master’s in Social Work in 2018. All through her academic pursuits, Mantasha weaved a dream of playing a part in the development sector. She began her career in Buildyourself Sewa Sanstha as project coordinator to work on skill development of youth and handicraft artisans in Moradabad. During her graduation, she spent a year to work as block coordinator in Nirbal Samaj Kalyan Parishad in Aligarh, focusing on education, health, and family welfare. She interned with Digital Empowerment Foundation in New Delhi, offering digital literacy to children in slum areas. Mantasha strongly believes in the power of storytelling and the capacity of a person to share their own to bring change and also draw inspiration from the stories of others. Owing to this belief, she particularly gets pleasure from creative works like composing poetry, writing quotes and short stories, painting and sketching, and art and craft works in her leisure time. She also enjoys learning new skills through virtual courses. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Mantasha is tremendously excited to foster her experience and knowledge in the development sector. For her, this Fellowship would act as an incubator where she can implement her ideas and expand her learning.

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