Thousands perishing unseen, unreported and unwept in rural India even as govt claims second wave is waning

A TV channel found that in UP, 90% patients are still awaiting medical help. Death has become an accepted calamity, and those who live with this reality have lost all faith in the existing system

Representative Image
Representative Image

Krishna Jha

We are down with shock and grief today at the scale of the devastation caused by COVID. Our rivers are swollen with COVID victims’ corpses. Ganges, the most beautiful gift of nature to us, is unsightly with the bodies floating all over not only in the flowing water but also on the sandy shores where they were buried irrespective of their caste, community and creed. Death has brought them together, not in peace and bliss but with an unspeakable helplessness.

The rural region is taking the brunt and thousands are perishing unseen, mostly unreported and unwept. In Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi administration declared the number of COVID deaths at 227, but those at the ghats came out with a number far bigger than that reported by government sources.

In the peak days of April 1 to May 7, according to the ghats’ undertakers, there were 400 cremations everyday. The number in a week was even more: 2800 cremated. That too was available to those alone fortunate enough to get the wood and space.

The crisis, due to the total collapse of governance, has spread all over deep and wide. In the recent panchayat elections in UP, school teachers were engaged. Panchayats are in villages, and most of them were under the grip of COVID. Teachers too were not spared. Most of them were suffering and dying, on duty and post duty.

The state government informed the teachers’ union who demanded compensation that only three teachers died while taking part in election duty. Also, to deserve compensation, it said, only those teachers are eligible who died while on duty!

UP state unit of teachers’ unions have been in agitation mode. They are demanding compensation for the actual number of the teachers who succumbed to COVID due to exposure while on poll duty. Against the number of the dead given by the state, which stopped at three, the reality was far more brutal. No less than 1621 teachers have perished.

COVID-19 is an eroding disease not easily detectable without sophisticated tests. Teachers had been engaged in locations where masses of people came together to vote. Once the virus enters the host, the disease takes time to kill. One dies later, turning ineligible for compensation as per UP govt norms.

The Allahabad High Court observed that the kin of those who died must be compensated with Rs 1 crore since the state and the election commission both were guilty of forcing the teachers to join the election duty in the ‘absence of RT-PCR support’. The court noted that the teachers were threatened with suspension and pay cut.

The state of Uttar Pradesh is perhaps the best example of how huge masses of rural population are being pushed to extreme destitution, followed by disease and death. A survey by the UP government in 79, 000 of the 97,000 revenue villages in the state revealed that the infection had spread to 28,742 villages.

As per reports, government has claimed that the second wave of the pandemic is now on the wane, but doctors in these remote, unreported areas are still busy treating huge masses of patients, with negligible help from the administration.

According to a channel for Hindi news in UP that sent its reporters to 1,714 villages of the state, the situation was beyond alarming. About ninety percent of the patients are still awaiting any medical help. Death has become an accepted calamity, and those who live with this reality have lost all faith in the existing system.

So far as the countrywide COVID testing capacity is concerned, the government at the Centre has come out with claims that it has arrived at a number of 25 lakh per day. But out of these, only half of the tests, that is, thirteen lakh, are RT-PCR tests. The rest were Rapid Antigen Tests, notorious for throwing up false negative reports. Now, the ICMR has found a new solution to evade embarrassment, clearing the use of at-home testing kits!

Meanwhile, according to a report from one of the financial services, the 21 lakh crore COVID relief package announced by the Centre which it claimed was ten percent of the GDP is in reality only two percent of the GDP, with the rest being credit driven. This in a situation when one crore jobs were lost in the country from January to April his year, according to CMIE data.

In the rural areas, unemployment has nearly doubled within a week, what with lockdowns and surging COVID infections in villages that has almost shut down all economic activity. Rural unemployment shot up to 14.34 per cent in the week ended May 16 from 7.29 per cent in the week ended May 9, according to CMIE data showed. Rural unemployment is at a 50-week high: the last time it was higher was nearly a year ago, in the week ended June 7, 2020.

Similarly, urban unemployment climbed to 14.71 per cent, three percentage points more in a week. The national unemployment rate went up to 14.45 per cent from 8.67per cent amid the second COVID wave.

The infection rate, combined with scarce job possibilities, triggered a migration to rural areas where the situation was as dim as it was in urban clusters, if not more.

(IPA Service)

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