By V. Chandrashekhar Naidu
This COVID-19 second wave has been disastrous. It has not only claimed numerous lives, but also increased social segregation and economic hardships, showing how a state can lose significantly by neglecting its health sector. The stark reality in Ganjam, Gajapati, and southern Odisha in particular has been exacerbated due to pre-existing socioeconomic conditions like high crime index, non-industrialisation, labour migrations, domestic violence, and lack of economic opportunities for the youth. These circumstances have uniquely worsened the plight of women, youth, and children in the following ways:
Women: As primary care-takers, women anyway bear a disproportionate burden of their household, which leads to increased psychological distress in terms of depression, anxiety and so forth. Moreover, as household managers, women’s loss of household savings in these circumstances has negative effects on the whole family’s mental and physical well-being. As the pandemic has ravaged across the country causing deaths in most families, the traditional stash of savings ¬– or even secret reserves of money – that most matriarchs keep has been diminished due to buying more medicines than usual and survival rations for family. Many have lost jewels, family heirlooms, and even all life earnings in continued attempts to save their kith and kin. Caste and religion further magnify these negative effects as COVID-19 forced entire job sectors and areas to shutdown.
Youth: Covid-19 induced college shutdowns, examination stoppages, and extreme uncertainty about the future has already troubled the youth. On the one hand, young women and girls with a bright future are being forced to fall back upon patriarchial structures of marriage and subservience to ensure survival, while on the other hand, young men and boys are left hopeless about their capacity to earn enough for themselves, let alone future families. The young working population is left with neither jobs at home nor the option to migrate. Economic recovery is only a possibility for the distant future, unless huge stimulus packages are provided by the government. The latter itself is highly unlikely seeing that Odisha is a welfare state and poor in terms of per capita resources due to previous harmful policies.
Children: Most children have lost a year or more of primary schooling and have been confined to online education, which is a luxury for the urbanised and almost non-existent for rural and/or tribal folks. Social distancing and online learning, while vital for public health, is bound to have an impact on the psyche and social skills of young children. The cherry on top of this cowpat cake is how parents are forced to pay regular school fees with none of the real benefits of schooling, further miring some in poverty.
In the present circumstances, while the state prioritises saving as many lives as possible, and rightly so, it is incumbent upon us to find home-grown solutions to local problems. The state alone cannot win this fight, nor can it effectively alleviate the worse which is yet to come. In this time of crisis, we must find ways to help our community including marginalised populations. For now, this can take the form of continuing to limit the spread of covid. In the long term, we must find ways to grapple with the lost economic and educational potential of our youth and women, finding ways to keep them engaged productively in society without blaming them for these struggles. Interclass solidarity is essential in these times, what ails the poor today can very well bite the rich tomorrow. We must move forward together.
V. Chandrashekhar Naidu
Congress MP candidate