Impact of COVID-19, a testimonial from Delhi

authored by Vagisha 

To find an allegory for the experience that the COVID-19 pandemic brought into my life, would be one of the most difficult literary hunts. Was it like the remains of a beautiful house crumbling with its weight, and breaking our backs? Yes! Was it like a mighty angry river swaying to the wilderness the very essence of our life? Indeed!

I recall the beginning of this catastrophe. Our offices supplied us with masks and sanitizers. On 22nd March, we were all given work from home permits. We brought our systems home with us. 

On the way, my cab driver expressed his glee saying how happy he was at the prospect of being paid in cash as the travel companies pay only once in two weeks, and all of them have cash crunch due to lack of customers. That was my first interface with the cruelty that this disease was to bestow generously upon the lives of the poor.

I came home, and we went for ration buying like everyone else did! I had shifted to the new house only four months ago, and not a single thing was stocked. Thus, a lot of buying amidst social distancing!

During the three days that I have gone for ration shopping in the last 45 days, I have noticed a rude resistance among the housewives towards wearing masks and using gloves to protect themselves. It was not by the virtue of misinformation, illiteracy, or lack of maturity. The Indian public has a natural tendency of dismissing the urgency, be it political mishaps like a Shrijan scam, or the Coronavirus outbreak. In this country of believers, it is difficult to penetrate facts based on logic and reasoning.

Delhi's Uttam Nagar East saw people coming out of their houses in the evening as if it was some political trouble that had kept them shut in homes. The public used scooties, bikes, or simply walked up and down in their lanes. I was in disbelief. However, when I saw the same scenario the second day, I dialed 100 and inquired as to why there had been no sirens, or police rounds to build the deterrent. The reply was a casual dismissal after inquiring about my area and colony- “Madam, the people will buy the things they need. We can’t stop them.” 

I wondered-had I been in the place of these officials I could have helped take better decisions! I sighed to myself and continued with the meritorious life constituting cleaning, cooking, and working from home. I gave paid leave to my pregnant cook on 21st March, which continues till date. I have decided to juggle between the chores myself.

As days passed by I discovered my terrace- a place rarely used before the lockdown! Every evening, I could see families spending time with their children and drinking tea on their terraces. Being a romantic from a small city in Bihar, a part of my soul was happy in this quiet environment away from the capitalism and pollution. In my six years of residence in Delhi, it was for the first time that the sky appeared to be oozing blue, with starlit clear nights. Every day, I would see the constellations as I saw them from my terrace back in my village. I wonder-how long will it last?

News has been pouring in from all quarters about Ganga and Yamuna being crystal clear, purged of their frothiness. I recollected the news from last year when UP Government had to put up red flags on the banks after the water was declared unfit for consumption, and how Yamuna smelled when I crossed Indraprastha Metro station. I also remembered the news from The Hindu regarding huge investments the companies would need to make in order to practice proper solid and liquid waste management for the purification of our rivers.  I can visualize the desperation of industrialists while the moon is shinning brighter than ever. 

Grappling with my regret about not being of any help in the face of the public health crisis, I kept paying my cook, and kept praying. Even as I was working under thirty percent salary cuts myself, I have enough to survive. 

Amidst all this, one of my friends called and asked if I remembered the tailor, who had shut the shop when rumours of riots were floating in Uttam Nagar East. I did. He is selling vegetables now! Nevertheless, my vegetable vendor kept coming every day. I would buy vegetables, and inquire- “Is everything ok with you?” He would reply calmly- “Yes, just that we get very limited time in Mandi to pick stuff.” That is all he could think of! Selling vegetables and surviving on prayer.

It is not that I did not burn my finger while cooking, or was not faced with a cash crunch due to salary cuts. It is not that I did not miss my parents and was not worried about their safety. My family lives in five cities, and one of them is stuck in Abu Dhabi on a rig! 

Vegetable vendor or the tailor will not be approached to write about their experiences. COVID-19 is their story, not mine. It is the story of every individual who has shown bravery on the roads, and not of the thinkers, philosophers, or IT personals who were working from home.

While the workers and migrants are struggling to survive, UP Government has shocked almost everyone by removing almost all the labour laws to allow the industries to exploit the work force in the name of boosting the economy. This news hurt my sensibility badly. It gave a disgusting and depressing feeling. I wrote an email to the CM, UP and Chief Justice, Allahabad High Court. I would like to quote an expert as my ardent appeal to fellow Indians post COVID-19:

“As an Indian, I would just like to bring it to your notice that we are ready for an average life. We do not want to live in a luxurious world devoid of any meaning and empathy at the cost of our workers. We also do not want you to compromise on their rights in our names. It is ok if we do not lead a grand life for the next ten years. We would still not want to take the lives of labourers from exhaustion, and propagate malnourishment in the poor of our country. It has been a failure on our part and on the part of government to give them a healthy life amidst this lockdown. Now, to expect them to work beyond 8 hours, not be paid the minimum wages, and be discriminated against on the basis of gender, caste, and religion is not something all of us wish upon them. In one of the YouTube videos of District Magistrate Deepak Rawat, we see how when he visits a factory in Uttar Pradesh, many labourers complain of not being paid the minimum wages according to the law in place. This was the situation, when all laws and the deterrents were in place. Imagine, if the governments sanctions exploitation indirectly through these erroneous laws, what will become of the marginalised poor in this country.”

As I always say, you will see these experiences as disjoined only if you do not wish to see the evident. It is sad that we are repeating the same story of oppression, callousness, and selfishness which is older than time.

 Lots of Love and Stay Safe!



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