The Covid-19 pandemic was an “extraordinary revelatory moment” in the history of India when the elements of inequalities in the society were laid bare, columnist and writer P Sainath said on Wednesday.
Sainath said even though the inequalities existed earlier, it was the coronavirus pandemic that gave a “most searing, unsparing, brilliant and thorough autopsy of the society”.
“It showed us the society we are. What it showed was there earlier also, but this time we couldn’t turn our heads away,” Sainath said at the Sunil Memorial Lecture, which was held in the memory of socialist leader Sunil Gupta, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Speaking on the topic “India in the age of inequality”, he said it became difficult for people to “turn their heads away from the corpse of Indian inequalities” during the time.
“The corpse is on the table and every nerve, sinew, vein, artery, every bone, organ is on naked display. All the elements of our inequalities were laid bare on the post-mortem table,” Sainath said.
Recalling the early days of the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the lockdown in March 2020 and the subsequent curfews, Sainath lamented the “bleeding-heart hypocrisy” of the media.
“Tens of millions of people started walking back to their villages, to their homes. I love the bleeding-heart hypocrisy of the media and the editorial who said ‘why are they going back?'”
Sainath rued that people never bothered to ask them about their family when the things were normal.
“Our conscience was touched by the fact that we were losing our ‘dhobis’ (laundry men), gardeners, drivers, servants, sanitation workers, the labour that slaves for us every day for a pittance and suddenly we were worried about their welfare,” he said.
The Ramon Magsaysay award winner also noted that by declaring a night curfew, the government forced millions of men, women and children to walk miles under the scorching sun of April and May.
“It condemned millions of people at the height of summer to walk between 7 am and 7 pm… men, women and children were trudging in the heat because their government had banned them from movement on the highway after 7 pm,” he said.
The author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ blamed the agrarian crisis of the Nineties for the migration from rural areas to urban areas.
He said instead of asking why they were going back, the correct question should have been why did they leave their villages and come in the first place.
“And the answer to that question is two words: agrarian crisis, when tens of millions of livelihoods were destroyed 1991 onwards,” he said.
“What choice did people have, rather than going elsewhere and looking for work?” Sainath asked.
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