I read Ruchir Sharma’s The Rich Love India’s Lockdown. For the Poor It’s Another Story. published on May 30, 2020, in The New York Times. This narrative of coronavirus lockdown could not have been further from the truth. The article presents a linear account, easy to ascribe but not the reality. The gross inequality inherent in India is multi-layered and not as straight-forward as the article makes it out to be.
The author simplistically assumes that the rich shall apply the same rules to everyone’s safety and well-being; which has never been the case in India. The inequity between the rich and the poor is visible in every facet of Indian life and the coronavirus lockdown is no different.
The rich do love the lockdown but only for their own sake; not for their maids and drivers, and surely not for the migrant workers in their industries and factories. For the poor, it is not another story. For them, it is the same old story. Anyway, either way, and every way, it is only the poor who bear the brunt and dies in India.
The victims of coronavirus – The Poor
The rich of India were, are and will always be ensconced in the safety of their ivory towers. They do not need the tribulations of a half baked lockdown to keep them safe. They know how to preserve their selves, for they have prospered in this country, which is proof of their immunity to all the ills afflicting the nation.
As on 2nd June, Covid-19 cases in the country surged past 1,80,000; however, only 5,600 claims have come to health insurance companies. A measly 3.1% of Indian Covid-19 patients had insurance cover, a measure of who the victims of the virus are in India.
Has the media described any coronavirus patient by name? Have you read the obituary for any death caused by coronavirus? Has coronavirus impacted any of the high and mighty in the country?
The pious claims are made that the virus does not differentiate and the virus affects everyone the same. It is all hogwash. The coronavirus victims are all nameless and faceless. In other words, the poor, who are destined this fate irrespective of the circumstances.
Even the coronavirus loves easy victims.
The victims of lockdown – The Poor
The rich do not love India’s lockdown for this makes their industries shut down and their factories go idle. What use is a lockdown if it cannot add to their already well-amassed wealth? Right from Day 1, there have been murmurs against the lockdown which has now become a well-orchestrated roar from the rich and powerful to let them be and do.
Rajiv Bajaj, the head of Bajaj Auto, the country’s leading two-wheeler manufacturer, said a draconian lockdown flattened the wrong curve as it decimated the GDP and economy. He did not have a comment about the coronavirus cases. Why care?
Had Ruchir Sharma tried writing about ethics and values of Indian industrialists, who employed the migrant workers and shoved them in the jaws of hunger and misery, maybe the poor could have had another story. They have got short shrift from everyone involved, including the author.
The lockdown had only one victim – the poor, the migrant workers. Again the same nameless and faceless characteristics, similar to coronavirus victims. What’s the difference?
The victims of apathy – The Poor
India has many hotels and guest houses – private and public. India surely has a surfeit of religious places with its vast expanse of spaces for their devotees. Indian companies are eyeing for world dominance in their sphere of activities and they have huge campuses. There are multiple places of public congregation. Also, the bevy of corporate schools. All of them closed due to the lockdown.
Did any institution, public or private, volunteer to house the migrant workers? All the spaces were vacant, but not a single organization offered them to deal with the humanitarian crisis of migrant workers. The government, of course, did not requisition any property, its own or private, for the migrant workers. Such events do not occur in a democratic country.
All the hotels and restaurants were shut down. Apart from the owners and white-collar employees, migrant workers make up the bulk of their work-force, duly driven away. Any institution/company/HNI could have leased the space, the workers and cooked up meals for all/few of the migrant workers. Again, such events do not occur in a philanthropist country.
The Indian law stipulates that a company spends 2% of its profits on CSR activities. The irony is that donating to PM Cares fund counts as CSR but not feeding and housing the migrant workers. Not that any company lined up to do this in the first place.
Indifference to fellow citizens has only one victim – the poor, the underprivileged.
How has coronavirus lockdown changed the lives of the rich and the poor?
The benefactors face no change. The victims face no change, either.
India’s rich are locked down in their luxury irrespective of the coronavirus. India’s poor are locked down in their wretched destiny irrespective of the coronavirus.
This is what Ruchir Sharma does not get.