TW: Death, Islamophobia
March 24, 2020, marks the day when the country of India, with its 1.3 billion citizens, went under lockdown, under the direct orders of the Government. This was the result of the ongoing pandemic, termed COVID-19, wherein it became imperative to establish social distancing amongst the citizens as it acted as one of the most important measures to avoid contracting the virus.
The lockdown was indeed a necessary step, though one could say that it was ‘unplanned’ given that it did more harm than good. India, being an economically developing country where 65% of its population comprises of under-resourced citizens; the sudden lockdown was a hard blow to them. With ration shops closed, travel facilities either shut down or offered at drastically increased prices, domestic work cut short, employment rates slashed, little to no government support, the underprivileged had to no choice but to rely on themselves and strive for a better livelihood. However, due to the aforementioned consequences of the ‘unplanned’ lockdown, the fight for survival for the poor became a difficult one, which wasn’t going to end soon.
With television media covering almost none of the facts listed above, it was then where many journalists came forward. With their masks and gloves in place, they went on the road. They collected facts and information for themselves for the whole of India to witness the crisis in which the underprivileged have been pushed into and break out of their privileged shell of apathy.
Twitter, for me, as for many others, acts a major source of news and updates on current events happening in/around the world. It was there where I discovered the brilliant and simply amazing journalism of Rana Ayyub, Barkha Dutt, Faye D’Souza, Zeba Warsi, and many more staunch and brazen womxn journalists. Seeing their daily ground reports and coverage on how the migrant population is walking hundreds of kilometers in hopes of reaching their home, how, with little to no sustenance and under the scorching sun, they were traveling on foot or bicycles while ensuring the safety and health of their little ones, was simply eye-opening.
“After 65 days of travel, reporting from 11 states, clocking more than 12000 kilometers, walking with migrant workers, reporting from inside of COVID hospitals, one thing I know for sure: party politics, BJP Congress bus rows, ‘panel debates’ – all this is so irrelevant & alien now” – Barkha Dutt
She says, “Over 66 days of ground reporting I’ve stayed away from party politics, it bores me. But it angers me that Centre & States can’t coordinate on paying for Workers to go home.” This is just one of the many grave issues the migrant population is facing during this crisis. Through her work, I came to know of the unjustified and classist act of making the workers not only pay for travel, in a time where employment and the daily wage has been denied to them but pay double the amount due to the Indian economy coming at a standstill. The under provided are not only left to fend for themselves but are also being reaped of whatever little income they had to fill the bellies of the privileged. The irony, they are the ones who built the houses in which the privileged folks like me and you are sleeping comfortably in, and now, they are being denied a roof above their head. To add to the misery, hundreds of workers, who were merely trying to walk home in a desperate need of survival, were killed by those who refused to provide amenities, sustenance, and a safe path towards home.
My heart aches every day and makes me ashamed of my privilege.
“For the first time today, me and my team are exhausted. The physical task of packing, unloading, then walking to various lanes, calming sentiments and anger on the streets, all this while fasting has taken a toll of us. But miles to go before we sleep” – Rana Ayyub
Since those in power refused to take care of the under-resourced citizens, it came down to those with the privilege to use it for the greater good. Rana Ayyub, a brilliant, outspoken and strong-headed journalist, got down to get her hands dirty and help distribute ration, travel services, and other essential amenities to the poor. Her and her entire team, consisting of dedicated and kind individuals, worked day and night, from dusk till dawn.
When communal war and religious attacks overtook the capital of India, it was disheartening to see media houses brazenly spread misinformation, islamophobia, hate speech, and targeted violence amongst the citizens. Rana Ayyub was one of the very few journalists who came forward with authentic reports, shedding light on the disaster that had befallen the Muslim community at the hands of those who are today termed as “bhakts.” Those who commend her today for her kind and generous act of volunteering during the COVID crisis, are the same folks who unnecessarily bashed, dragged her name, and threatened her because she wasn’t afraid to put her foot down and show India the true chain of events. Her reports were termed as pejorative and “Hinduphobic.” I was disgusted and thought, “how low can someone stoop to leave such heartless and malicious comments for anyone?”
I cannot even fathom what she must have felt like, opening her socials every day, just to see someone calling her a slur or complaints being lodged against her for doing her job. I commend her for getting through it and is one of the many reasons why she will always be a role model and an icon for me.
What we talked about till now was only the tip of the iceberg. There are several issues that the migrant population is facing and continues to face. Citizens, journalists, volunteers, NGOs, etc. have come on the streets to lend a hand to either provide sustenance, help the poor reach home, pay for the train fare, get them checked into hospitals, and so much more.
However, it’s not just the privileged who have decided to do their part in helping the needy. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and those who could afford to help those in greater need did their best. Such a collective and empathetic endeavor by citizens all over the country is something to be proud of, but not something that should have taken place. One of the many reasons as to why the number of COVID cases kept drastically increasing, despite the lockdown, was because more than half of India’s population (migrants and helpers) were/are on the road. What such volunteers like Faye D’Souza are doing for the community is commendable, but the reason why they had to take matters into their own hands reveals a lot about the regime and is definitely something for the history books.
When we talk about womxn migrants, a whole plethora of problems come to light. The responsibility of feeding and taking care of their children is placed upon them due to the patriarchal structure of the society, more so in the rural settings. Pregnancy is one such process which would be extremely difficult to take care of during this time, where hospitals and doctors are occupied with treating COVID patients and these problems are for those with privilege. Pregnant migrant womxn or who have just given birth, will find themselves in an extremely uncomfortable and difficult to manage situation. With no medical facilities available, zilch sustenance, continuously travelling in order to ensure survival, they also need to ensure the baby’s health. And this is just one of the many problems which migrant womxn, especially, are facing.
I applaud Man Kumari, I applaud Bharkha Dutt for covering her story and bringing it to light, I applaud every single womxn migrant who is doing their best and fighting for survival in a society where responsibilities have always been placed on them without their consent, and in a country where those in power have rejected, humiliated and killed them.
An individual who valiantly participated, amongst many others, in the protests which took place before the lockdown initiated, against the draconian and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). At the time, she was pregnant but despite that, she volunteered to raise her voice against a bill (now an act) which sets India many years back. Later, she was charged with the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) which is yet another draconian rule to apprehend anyone who could be seen as a “national threat” to the country. She was thrown in Delhi’s overcrowded Tihar Jail and is still there, during a time when social distancing is of the utmost priority and more so for pregnant women, as stated by the government itself. Yet, they refuse to release her.
“Since her arrest, she’s been allowed to make two five-minute calls each to her husband and her lawyer. She has been denied both visits and letters on account of Covid-19 restrictions.” – BBC India.
She has been given zero medical assistance from the government, zero amenities given the fact that she’s a mother-to-be and to make matters worse, trolls in huge numbers bash, defame, make vile and repulsive comments about her and even started questioning her marriage, to the point where her mother was forced to release pictures of her marriage and her husband to the public.
Our society and the regime have stooped so low that they are okay letting a womxn who, despite being pregnant, stood up to fight an uphill battle against a bill which threatens millions of Indian citizens, including her, rot in an overcrowded cell during a pandemic where social isolation is the need of the hour.
I commend her for her courage and sprit and I pray for her safety and her baby, I pray for her safe return home and I pray for hundreds of other womxn who are going through similar, if not worse, situations.
Too much has been lost; too many voices have been silenced. I write this article in hopes that it opens some eyes, hits people with the reality so they acknowledge those in need, their struggles, their strength to fight, the womxn who were unjustifiably punished for raising their voice or because they were a womxn, and take a call for action.