Lockdown Was Right, Walking Migrant Workers Keep Curve Up!
Curve not Flattened, Migrants the Culprit.
So have been suggesting the Central Govt, its various bureaucrat spokespersons, the Party leaders and allied functionaries. From the doctor Health Minister to the various medical advisors speaking for the Govt., all have been eulogizing the lockdown for containing the spread of the Pandemic and denying community transmission has even begun. They first sold the tale of the Tablighis alone being responsible for spreading the disease though they advanced no data about which sections the cases were coming from; when the numbers sustained their upward trend despite an announced policy of test less and less (only the symptomatic) that story petered out. And now that the curve of ill and deaths mounts steadily despite four ‘fully justified’ lockdowns and acknowledgement of the long- on community transmission stage can no longer be postponed, the Central Govt is stepping up on selling a new Goebbelsian spin –Yes, Community Transmission Is Going to Be There and You Know Why- It’s the Migrant Workers who are Doing It.
Govt. functionaries and bureaucrats are at it, but now it doesn’t end there, hapless Indians. Migrant working class has forced itself into visibility, as it has defied the full might of all arms of the State which were out to ignore it. It has walked itself even to death fueled by the Surety of its Inconsequence to Governments, to the Scales of Lady Justice- whose- eyes- are- Bound. Finally even the Highest Court decided to notice it though only because a maximum of common India is crying for it, binding its wounds, questioning the morality of the rulers and bewailing the Courts. The horrible situation of the unending walkers, the relentlessly rising cases and the bad experiences with the health system taken together, have begun to hurt the image of the Govt and undermine the credibility of the routine spokespersons who are increasingly seen as both pitiless and incompetent to help people. So are being fielded more acceptable Defenders of this Brazen Class Assertion by the State Machinery and of the attempt to shift all blame onto the victims. As migrants are transported across blazing India with scarce attention to food and water, as trains have no schedules, workers die in transit both walking and in trains due to exhaustion and neglect, as Mother India lies dead on a platform with her toddler waking her, even head of respected medical institution, AIIMS New Delhi, has spoken to help the rulers turn the worst victim into THE culprit. The Hippocratic finger is raised in service of Rulers by a Doctor in High Place- If the curve of the Pandemic is not flat, if the policies of lockdown and starving have resulted in only deep all around misery and not the much hyped predicted successes, and ’if’ community spread occurs despite all the hard work of the Govt, Ah! the Migrant Workers Are To Be Blamed!
An assertion so ridiculous and false, so contrary to the obvious facts, so servile to the Central Govt attitude which turns afflicted into criminals and keeps the police as the public face in fighting a pandemic, demands public refutation by recounting established facts. Such Opinion Givers have to be charged: you are taking the people you are appointed to serve (as you are employees of Public Funded Health Services) for a medical proverbial ‘ride’.
It was held (in an interview to Karan Thapar on the Wire) that the lockdown was both correct and early enough but the ‘curve did not flatten’ due to the MIGRANTS and one community initially. Eventually too, it is Migrant workers again who are responsible for the steeply rising numbers. It was also held that it didn’t flatten because we are a democracy unlike China (but what about Italy, which question was side stepped and also what about home delivery of rations by China), and because of one community accumulating in one place (that’s Tabligis for sure; itis clear the reference was not to Ahmedabad or Madhya Pradesh or other religious gatherings). All of which is quite in keeping with the Ideology in power, which has also managed to link illness with criminality. The point is, a pandemic with a virus entering from overseas was clear by end January, yes? Need for compulsory quarantine for those entering from abroad was also clear, yes? Remember those quarantine ones caught travelling on the sneak in domestic flights and AC coaches with stamps on their forearms in mid March? Remember that on 25th March when lockdown was imposed, domestic fliers still had two days to get home? The interviewee, in the third week of May, still denied community transmission. Then tell- WHY were migrants not allowed time for assured travel home and were not so facilitated in the last week of March? Were they foreign returned, were they contacts of returned? Then WHY? How could migrant working class, forced to walk home, spread a virus it had no contact with? The Indian Association of Public Health and Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine jointly wrote in the first third of April of the need for cluster containments, of lockdowns being experiences of some other countries in other context, of the resultant economic distress. They are the field and theoretical studiers of Epidemics. Are they to be rubbished then? Since it was clearly stated that every country is having its own experiences, is the ‘separate experience’ of India merely the conclusion that our migrant working class is a vector? Is it not a fact that our separateness is that the lockdown has been implemented in the most anti people method in the world? Would a doctor not grab even one second of media time to talk of the multifaceted tragedy of a people forced to shut themselves 6 to 10 in a ten foot square room or a jhuggi, no wages (Govt has even officially withdrawn order), no food (did you see the wretched forsaken hands which produce everything now keeping their utensils in never ending lines even in Delhi, when food came for 4500 when 6000 were waiting) and no right to go home? Aren’t all these health issues of mammoth proportions and inevitable results of the policy implemented? When one supports the Central Govt. and denies Community transmission is on even today and yet says migrant workers are going to transport infections to the whole country from hot spots, does it sound credible, forget the medical denial involved? The workers have been going home steadily since March end, 80% of the cases are still concentrated in the urban metropolis hot spots and the cases and deaths are steadily rising right here though testing is so restricted. Migrant workers have been walking AWAY from hot spots which have been getting hotter with the passing days and still they are responsible for these rising cases, not even for some future spike in far flung areas? Are not rising deaths reflective of the ability and availability of tertiary care apparatus rather than migrating workers, but that’s not found worthy of mention? Has not the policy of forced confining of large numbers of population in packed unhealthy slums by police violence actually helped to spread the virus and compromised the health of the whole population? Should not Doctors in Positions have forcefully advised the Govt. to move them fast, effectively and with food and water, especially it was almost immediately clear that the Govt. is neither feeding nor looking after those it has economically crippled with one blow. Why ever and how could highly respected and competent medical professionals holding positions nor speak of these health issues when they go to air their expert opinions on public platforms? The doubt is inevitable; is that their real opinion as doctors or are they out to lend credibility to anti people rulers?
Infact, the purpose of the exchange seems crystal clear. The Respected Director denies community transmission is on, in keeping with the position of the Govt. He then says that in the hot spots may be there is community transmission but not in the whole country! Community transmission simply means that cases are occurring where no contact exposure can be established, and will start in where contact tracing and containment has not been thorough, inevitably these leads to big areas becoming hotspots. The entire exercise of a credible medical expert jumbling the idea, is one of steps to establish that the Central Govt’s lockdown had prevented community transmission, and to link the phrase with the very visible movement of migrant workers. Thus, hey presto, the victims become the culprits and community transmission begins to mean that cases will turn up in those parts of the country where migrant workers untested in hotspots (where community transmission is very much on but policy is no testing till serious) turn out to be Corona positive or symptomatic when they reach natal areas. They just have to be isolated and treated, of course, and their contacts quarantined. But the coming in of cases from new geographical areas is going to be used to acknowledge community transmission in public, and the Culprit has already been pointed out by one who holds a highly respected medical position. No doubt such opinions will soon be spoken even more loudly by other propagandists of this highly diabolical scheme of the Govt. Of India. Public health personnel have been saying that cluster control is the key, and not denying community transmission at all.
It is correct that the initial period should have been used to ramp up public health services- they were, were they? On a budget of peanuts? Do Doctors In High Places seriously not see that more funds were needed? Is it right for them to agree to shut the doors of huge premier public hospitals to general patients cramped for months in hospital shelters for the next date of chemotherapy? How well did you ramp up ‘equipment’- Resident doctors even in Delhi and even in AIIMS were forced to petition the Minister to ensure PPEs for medical staff. Letters written by IFTU’s Contract workers unions in AIIMS and Central Govt. Hospital Safdarjung for adequate protective gear for contract workers are in the files of both administrations. Demonstrations by doctors, nurses, workers in various parts of the country even while they continue manning their posts speak for themselves, no matter the status of the alibi giver. Asserting we are only going to ‘test the symptomatic’ – the permanent sanitation worker of AIIMS who died in his own hospital of Covid was refused a Corona test due to debate on the selfsame symptoms though he was a front line worker on duty in the Institute whose Director, a pulmonologist of considerable repute states about a respiratory virus that presentations can be remarkably different and we are still learning. Then can symptom-based testing be upheld? But there we go, it is. When one can clearly say, and correctly so, that mathematical models are captive to inputs and have limited use in predicting peaks of the disease; then why not apologize to the public for earlier using just such another model and from public platform, predicting time lines for peaks! To do whatever rulers want even against one’s one knowledge, is neither ennobling nor justifiable especially when acting as a crutch to Govt’s demonizing of migrant workers and washing hands off its deliberate policy towards migrants since ever increasing sections are revulsed at it. It is sad indeed that a technocrat could be told he is being ‘diplomatic’- it means being evasive, though representing the Science of Healing in all dimensions.
Director AIIMS states no ‘general’ testing is needed- there is hardly any in fact, it’s so hard to get tested. Then already a model for herd immunity has been adopted. Should people not be told? Should real death rates not be told, should people not be given wages, if govt. lies that you won’t lose your job and lakhs do? Does it promote mental health; if you are sick and a policeman comes to quarantine you instead of a doctor, what should a Head of a premier medical institute point out- that Govt couldn’t care less or that ‘people’ are not cooperating?
In modern hospitals, compartmentalization is strict as is hierarchy. Pulmonologists tell about lungs, Pediatricians about kids, and Preventive and Social Medicine bores with people’s health statistics, graphs and figures. The era of specialization! In Pandemic Times, this is probably justly violated, the structures of Public Health, Institutes of Communicable Diseases, etc. etc. are shown up as dispensable white elephants maintained needlessly. The ‘Doctors Who Get Heard’ Are ‘Heads of Public Institutions’ and which in turn are political appointments. Of course, they are respected as specialists in their fields, though they may speak of fields distinctly other even though this is not GP era of medicine. But if they use their stature to give alibis to rulers and to aid targeting of people, their misuse of knowledge must be aggressively exposed.
And thus, we assert to the People of the Country, we the working class of India are the wronged, the betrayed, the dispossessed by the rulers, NOT the culprits. The Culprits in this pandemic are those who lied to people that we would get food, shelter, wages, care, the last worker and peasant of us; but we got only jumlas and tokenism. Our agricultural worker was the 12 year old chillipicker who walked towards home to death from exhaustion, away from hunger. Our migrant industrial and service sector workers are those fighting for transport in Surat and so many cities, sleeping to die on railway tracks, cycling, walking, being helped by common people, defying police let loose on us and walking home to natal earth, with knowledge of rejection and death of dreams.
A Pandemic is, above all and before all else, a medical moment, not an administrative one. The crying need in India was for all Public Health Institutions led by their reputed Heads to come forward and lead the health system to serve the people and force Govts to enlist the Private to fall in line.
The migrant working class as well as the rest of the working class has done its bit. It built the huge hospitals, mans the industries which supply it, cleans the dirt, runs the wheels. We do all that. When it comes to counting with the Govt, the migrant working class walks home as it knows it does not count; not that it counts for natal govts but it seeks its own and the natal mud and wind. The Pandemic is a Medical Moment. If the medical soothsaying is not working, if containment is faulty, if people who are sick are being served law enforcers not medicines and support, if policies have clearly failed to give medical succor or conviction, do not think you can get away with heaping blame on migrant workers! Migrant workers are only living out the class callousness of the State. They are NOT vectors, nor culprits. We call on Doctors In High Places, speak for the Health of the people! The only Oath you take, is the Oath common to all doctors and no other. It is to serve the people.
All trade unions, all democrats, all people’s organizations and all friends of facts must come together to call out this diabolical move of the Central Govt. to link community transmission of the Pandemic to the migrant workers, and in this way to cover up its total callousness to caring for the people and taking necessary steps to equip and help the people and contain the pandemic. The Govt has used the pandemic to push through anti workers and anti peasant policies and crack down on the anti CAA movement and on democratic and labour rights. It has used it to push through policies to increase loot and exploitation of the country by Imperialists. Where is the fight against Corona in all this?
President, National Committee, IFTU.