To try and save itself from the coronavirus pandemic, India instituted a crippling lockdown – the harshest in the world. The country put unprecedented curbs on movement and employment, crushing the poor. Yet, there is a major leak in India’s efforts: its inability to crack down on the middle-class and rich the way it did on the poor.
Take a case from Delhi’s Defence Colony neighbourhood. As it emerged this week that three people have tested positive in the posh neighbourhood, the Delhi Police blamed the family’s security guard for spreading infection and filed an FIR against him. However, it was unclear why the police suspected that the guard had infected the family with Covid-19 – rather than the family passing on the disease to the guard.
While there is an allegation that the guard attended a religious event that left several attendees infected, there is little focus on the fact that the family explicitly violated the lockdown by allowing the guard to move in and out of their home. Inexplicably, there has been no police action against the family for breaking the law and putting the entire Defence Colony neighbourhood at risk.
This is not the only such violation. The Indian Express reported that many homes in the Defence Colony are still employing domestic workers like guards and maids. To make matters even more egregious, rather than clamping down on this dangerous violation of the lockdown, the Delhi Police has actually endorsed the action by requesting residents to “keep watch on their domestic helps, drivers and guards”, the newspaper reported.
This is not the only instance of the Indian state’s inability to prevent elite and middle class families from continuing to use the services of domestic workers during the lockdown. On Wednesday, a slum in the National Capital Region was put under containment after it was discovered that a domestic worker who lived in the slum had got the infection from an employee of a fire safety equipment company in whose home she was employed. By Wednesday, 39 of the 58 confirmed cases in Noida had been traced to employees of this firm.
Another egregious instance of elite privilege has resulted in a large number of bureaucrats from the health department of Madhya Pradesh being infected with the coronavirus. As NDTV reported, “At least 40 of the 85 coronavirus cases in Bhopal reported within the Madhya Pradesh health department, senior government officials in the state have found themselves under scrutiny over allegations that they sidestepped rules framed to check the spread of the disease.”
It is alleged that the source of this is the department director, who tested positive for the virus – yet continued to come in to work rather than immediately quarantine himself, reported News18. As the Madhya Pradesh government orders an investigation, the effect of these lapses has been stunning: currently almost every second coronavirus patient in the capital Bhopal belongs to the health department.
Taking a holiday
In a few cases, matters have gone beyond governments being lax to directly helping people break the lockdown. On Thursday, it emerged that the Wadhawan family, promoters of the Dewan Housing Finance Corporation, had violated the lockdown, leaving Mumbai to go to a hill station in Maharashtra. The family was able to cross police checkposts since they had a special emergency pass issued by a senior bureaucrat, reported Times Now.
A similar incident was reported by Dainik Bhaskar, when the Gujarat government helped 1,800 Gujaratis come back home from Uttarakhand, breaking strict lockdown rules that have resulted in state boundaries to be sealed.
These cases have occurred even as migrant labourers have experienced intense difficulties as a result of the ban on inter-city movement.
While in theory, India has instituted a rather harsh lockdown, the ground reality is chequered. Though the Indian state has been able to enforce the lockdown with a greater measure of success among the poor and marginalised, the powerful middle class and rich are still getting away with violations.
This is, of course, not only viscerally unfair, it is also harmful. India’s inability to convince every resident to follow the lockdown severely hampers its efforts at ensuring social distancing and undermines into efforts to fight the pandemic.