REVOLT: No sooner Modi made the announcement on extension of lockdown, North Indian workers in Chennai rushed to the station demanding special trains to take them back home
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For Saturday following the week when just hours after the announcement of the extension of the lockdown to May 3, the migrants revolt started. For a Saturday following the week when Narendra Modi announced that the lockdown throughout the country would continue up to May 3, 2020. For a Saturday following the week when the Confederation of Indian Industry and commerce (CII Goa Chapter) called for the gradual lifting of the lockdown completely. For a Saturday following the week when north Goa was declared a red zone in contrast to south Goa which has been declared a green zone with no fresh cases of coronavirus. For Saturday following the week when a survey conducted by the government of Goa over the first three days of the week revealed that none of the migrants settled in Goa want to go back home.
And a few stray thoughts on the beginning of the revolt within hours of the announcement by Narendra Modi that the lockdown would be extended to May 3. Migrant workers living in slums in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai gathered in public anxiously for transport to go back to their native places. An angry mob of migrants in Dharavi and Govandi in Mumbai and also those in Chennai rushed to the closest railway stations to book tickets. In a flash strike they demanded that the Central and State governments should immediately make arrangements for trains to various northern cities like Lucknow and Patna where their homes were.
The daily wage earners contemptuously refused the offer of the administration and the police to offer them a place to stay and food. Angry poet Namdeo Dhasal in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, retorted angrily that freedom was more important than food. That to them their native place was more important than earning higher wages in a distant part of the country.
NORTH SOUTH DIVIDE
This is not surprising as north and south India are virtually two different countries. The language, the habits, the lifestyle and the food that is eaten down south India is totally different from living patterns in the north. While in the northern states Hindi is spoken, none of the southern states either understand or accept Hindi. There have been repeated agitations against making Hindi the official language of the country. The kurta-pyjama-pagdi of the farmers of the north are totally different from the lungi worn half-mast in the south. It is actually a dhoti but I am using the word lungi as more people are familiar with the “lungi dance.” Their northern states’ eating habits are a sharp contrast to the idli-dosa culture of the south, very different from the chole-batura of northern people.
Residents of the northern states may come down to the south or go to Mumbai for higher salaries, but they never lose their cultural links with the north. As dramatized by chath pooja when the whole of Chowpatty beach in Mumbai was populated with folk from Bihar and Orissa carried out rituals on the beachside. While people from outside the southern states may come to the cities to make a living, they will never settle down and consider it their permanent home. I expect that as the lockdown continues there will be even greater pressure to get trains and the buses moving, particularly since this is the holiday season for the children anxious to visit with their nana-nani or dada-dadi (grandparents).
AND a few stray thoughts on the extension of the lockdown by another 18 days to May 3. There has been strong opposition to the lockdown and particularly in the hotspots. The hotspots are part of a metro city considered suspect for coronavirus infections and they’re being completely sealed, to the extent that no outsider can go in or out of the demarcated area. Lockdowns are meant to ensure the minimum physical distance of at least one meter between any two residents. The objective of the lockdown is to prevent crowding and consequently, infection through close contact. This may be reasonable or practicable in developed countries where even the poorest have adequate space to live in.
DOMINATED BY SLUMS
Most of our metropolitan cities in India have slums where ten to even 20 people live in a small hut or chawl rooms where it is impossible to avoid even minimum physical contact with one another. There is no question of maintaining a distance of one meter from each other. Since the accommodation is very small the residents even if in a close knit family like to go out rather than hang around in over-crowded space. It may make sense to shut down offices and schools. It makes sense to ban any mass get-togethers or congregations for whatever purpose, be it religious or political rallies or even big fat Indian weddings. Novel Coronavirus is a rare new viral disease spreading very rapidly with the carrier being anyone with a bad cold-cough and spitting everywhere, also coughing in close proximity to another without protection.
Lockdowns have a very different meaning in countries like India. It is equivalent to being jailed and nobody wants to be forced to spend 24 hours a day for 15 days together — even if it is their very own family. This only increases a feeling of claustrophobia and causes a sense of suffocation. Lockdowns on the contrary encourage people to escape from their jails and interact even less with each other. We all know the passion that north India has for Hindi films. You can imagine how much the people of south India must be missing their Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan. Moreover it is still not proved that the lockdown has achieved the purpose of reducing the rate of spread of the coronavirus infection.
AND a few stray thoughts on the demand by the Federation of Indian Confederation of Industries and Commerce (FICIC) for an end to the lockdown which has affected industry very badly. Industry and big business houses have come to a complete halt because of the lockdown. Raw material and finished goods cannot be moved because of the freeze on transportation. The factories cannot function since the employees are forbidden from going to work. The only exception is industries in which employees can work from home.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a Silicon Valley where everyone can open their laptops and start working. Not even 0.1% of the country can work from home. Even in the case of small scale and cottage industries where people may be able to work far more the crowding will be so heavy that the object of maintaining a distance of one meter to contain the disease will be defeated. The overwhelming majority of workers in factories big and small work in overcrowded sheds with poor ventilation and sanitation facilities, factors likely to aggravate the problem rather than solve it. The Federation of Indian Industries and Commerce (FIIC) comprises big and small industries employing large number of employees ranging from thousands to several lakh, as in the case of Honda City in Pune.
It is not possible in such working conditions to enforce a lockdown. The very cost of creating sanitation providing for sanitizers and soaps at a distance of every hundred meters will cost more than the products being manufactured. It might become necessary to change the entire design of the factory to ensure that physical distance of one meter is maintained. Even more important would be to educate the workers who are mostly poor migrant workers the importance of sanitation. The lack of hygiene does not affect the Indian worker so much because he may have developed immunity to it. It is like making your American cousin eat mirsang bhoji at Café Real or panipuri at Miramar beach!
The FICIC has no doubt put in a lot of pains to create and elaborate strategy to maintain the physical distance and adequate sanitation. For instance it is has suggested that factories and offices should work in shifts so that the number of people at the work place will be much less than normal. This will be at the cost of productivity. The only to practical solutions that seems to have immersed is the food and grocery delivery services like Zomato and Swiggy which enable food and groceries to be delivered at home. It is also possible to cut down on travel by having teleconferencing instead of flying or taking a train or even a cab to reach the destination. It would take more than a decade to introduce the changes that would be required. It may be simpler to beat for the termination of the lockdown. The only problem is that given the nature of the coronavirus we do not know how long the lockdown will last.
And a few stray thoughts on South Goa having being lucky enough to escape the worst of the coronavirus. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has divided the state into red zone and green zone. Red obviously signifies danger while green means all is well. The criteria in the case of coronavirus is the number of cases detected, the number of cases found positive and the number of deaths in the area covered. South Goa has been declared the green zone as it has not declared any fresh cases of coronavirus. All seven covid19 cases have occurred in North Goa. Of the seven found positive in North Goa five have recovered while two are undergoing treatment. There is not been a single death reported in North Goa. Indeed the last positive case reported in the state was in North Goa on April 4th 2020.
SOUTH GOA ESCAPES
In sharp contrast South Goa has escaped the spread of the virus compared to North Goa. The state government is determined that Goa declared free of coronavirus by the 30th April to achieve this target stricter steps are planned.
The checking is to be intensified with the state government conducting the survey of all residences in the state during the first three days of the week. In view of the relative food performance of Goa it has been decided to allow cargo vehicles to enter Goa. The drivers, the assistance of vehicles entering the states will have to go through the sanitization channel which have been prepared. The vehicles will have to leave the same day. The health department has arranged for 20,000 beds to quarantine seafarers on their return. The Kadamba Transport Corporation is expected to re-open on April 20th to ferry employees. Relaxation will be granted to the industries to permit their workers to use Kadamba buses. The OPDs of all government hospitals expecting for the GMC and all private hospitals have been re-opened. The impression is that the situation in Goa is better than in other states and we can expect more relaxation in the controls impost due to the lockdown.
AND a few stray thoughts on the results of the three-day survey conducted by the government of Goa to check the status of the spread of coronavirus in the State. During the house-to-house survey a team of college and school teachers visited every home including the hutments in which migrant labour live. The primary purpose was to find out how long a resident had stayed in Goa to establish whether he was a migrant or a permanent resident employee. The survey also wanted to find out if any Goans had gone out of Goa since February 15 or received visitors from out of the country or the state after February 15. The survey did not chose to divide the population on communal or caste lines. There were no questions relating to religious or caste background of the resident.
The coronavirus motility period is 14 days. Which is why the cut-off date for Goans leaving Goa or being visited by non-Goans was the most significant aspect of the survey. The survey might disclose a much larger number of coronavirus suspects who may be tested for any symptoms of the disease. It is unfortunate that it was done so casually. IT would have been more useful if the survey had been conducted by medical students who would have been better qualified to check for symptoms of coronavirus infection.
AND a last stray thought on relaxation in the enforced extended lockdown. Though in theory and according to Narendra Modi the lockdown will become stricter, there are no such signs in Goa. More and more shops are opening up and with the relaxation in transporting stocks they are arriving promptly. For some curious reasons Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has banned the entry of chicken and meat from all other states excepting Kerala and Karnataka.
This is largely based on the suspicion that an epidemic of swine flu may have broken out in Karnataka and Kerala. Government offices have started functioning though there is a proposal for rotation to ensure that the offices are not too crowded. The option of working from home will continue. Online classes are being organised for students to make it simpler for them and prevent overcrowding. We hope all the departments will start functioning again so that our dues will be paid.