The Story of COVID-19 and Indian Democracy

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According to the recent reports, India ranks 2nd in terms of the total no. of Covid-19 cases in the world, with the current all-time high 4,00,000 of fresh cases each day Now we must cross examine that what went wrong with the Indian management? How did we all end up here and can our democracy pull through this catastrophic virus? So embark as we together unravel the Story of Covid-19 and Indian Democracy.

Let’s begin this journey from 8 pm on 24th  March, 2020. A nationwide Lockdown in India was imposed. The Indian Prime Minister addresses it’s sovereign state and draws a parallel between The Mahabharata and the Lakshmana Rekha to advice the citizens to stay at home for the next 21 days. The so called world’s strictest lockdown has been imposed. But the fate of the lockdown in the monarchy of India Democracy was known way before it was imposed. It was practically impossible to has a population of 135 crores without violating the fundamentals of democracy.

The biggest persuasion to the failure of Lockdown was the widespread Individualism in our country. Although it has had its pros in the form of higher economic growth rate by giving rewards to Non-conformism, it wasn’t meant to handle a pandemic for it included the handicap of Parochial Altruism (Narrow scope of welfare for others). This made taking a collective and coordinated decision (or even response to a decision) almost impossible as it focused on Individual gains rather than societal gain. On the contrary, Lockdown proved to be more successful in authoritarian regimes such as China where collectivism prospered.

Migrant Crisis

After lockdown was imposed, what followed it was a complete chaos. There was a shutting down of factories and all public places which lead to huge unemployment of thousands of daily waged workers they faced acute shortages in terms of money, shelter and clothes. The labourers took on their journey to reach their native villages, which served as a transmitter for the disease. In utter helplessness, multitude of migrants gathered near bus and railway stations and some even preferred to go on foot to their respective homes. Flying rumors about travel facilities being arranged by the government, without any prior notice fueled their migration. Not all made it back home, many died due to depression, anxiety, starvation, police brutality and road and rail accidents.

The opposition and the ruling majority started with the years old mudslinging (a very important feature of contemporary Democracy).

Provisions were made by the ruling party but their implementation remained an issue. The stock of food grains was there to sustain the labourers for at least an year but their distribution through the One Nation, One Ration Card system (which was implemented in few cities) remained an area of concern.

Lack of Center and State Coordination was also highlighted through this crisis. On 27th March, the home ministry’s directive was issued by ordering the states to contain the migration. It also gave the states the authority to use the National Disaster Response Fund to provide the basic necessities (like shelter and food) to the laborers. Still, Regional Friction remained a problem. While there were some states that chose to use a region specific approach rather than a uniform National one, there were others too that followed the Central order to such an extent that it lead to severe cops savagery, violating the Human Rights of all those people affected.

Although Financial aid was assured, over 90% of labourers who reached out in the month of April reported that they have not been provided with any financial assistance from the government. In Tamil Nadu 97% were not paid during lockdown and in Punjab, 84% had less than Rs100 remaining.

Social Ostracism (Procedure under Athenian Democracy, where any citizen could be expelled from Athens, used here to refer to social exclusion) of migrants remained a problem as they were considered sources of transmission of infection. No one wanted to be near them. Diminishing Income and Societal Discrimination took a huge Psychological toll on the migrants and thus deprived them of their equal status in the society.

Online Algorithms

The Corona Virus has changed the trajectory of our lives.Almost everything you can think of has taken the big leap of faith from Offline to Online. Online teaching has started via apps such as google meet, Discord, Zoom, and et-cetera. Our lives are no longer governed by us, but by these Big Data Algorithms. We unknowingly give them this permission when we click on “agree to the terms” after installing any application.

Major concerns have been raised regarding the stealing of data through Chinese apps like Zoom. There are two Major fronts: Lack of distribution and transparency of Information to a third party without the consent of the user.

To quote the General Data Protection Regulation, “consent for collecting personal data must be freely given, and that if there is an imbalance of power between the parties, it cannot be a free choice and that any consent obtained is invalid.”

Following this a school in Sweden was fined $20,000 for using facial biometrics fot the tracking of 22 students. One might argue that the parents had given the consent but consent (in this situation) is not a valid legal proof due to the clear imbalance between the controller (School authorities) and the subject (students).

The same reasoning can be put in the current online domain. Any invitation to a teleconference can be stated as an imbalance of power as there is no realistic option to reject.
Due to these very reasons tech giants like SpaceX, Google and Governments of Taiwan, United States of America and the Australian Defence force have banned the usage of such apps (ZOOM) as a precautionary measure.

Even the Indian Government has banned 59 mobile apps which are a viable threat to the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of India.

It is also said that Human Liberty is the Soul of any democracy. It reflects the, “Free Will” which is the greatest source of authority. But is this will truly free? Isn’t it affected by these algorithms that dictate our actions and it’s responses?

It was rightly said by Yuval Noah Harari in a book of his, 21 lessons for the 21st Century that, “When the Biotech Revolution merges with the Infotech revolution, it will definitely produce Big Data Algorithms that can monitor and understand my feelings much better than I ever can, and then Authority will probably shift from Humans to Computers.”

This is the veracity of our lives, we are still living in a Utopian Society considering that we make choices of our own. All the choices are fed to us by these algorithms, and we barely respond to it the way it wants us too.

India Country Profile


After using the data brought forward by the Global Monitor of Covid-19’s Impact on Human rights and democracy, to summarize India’s performance with respect to Covid-19.

General Analysis-

Not imposing an Emergency by the state was a wise step as it has been reserved by the constitution of India to be only used if the territorial sovereignty of India is under question due to acts of hostility such as a War. (Article 352, Constitution of India)

The response can be categorized as a Neutral one, owing to the Social polarization that already exists in the present status quo. In order to portray a better understanding and understand the nuanced aspects of Covid 19 and its impact on the democratic rights, we shall focus more on the rights that were compromised due to Covid response set by the Government of India and World Governments in general.

Covid Impact:
This right was considerably restricted due to the challenges that were faced due to the pandemic.

This is evident from the following cases:

  1. Gatherings of the public was banned in the 1st Phase of the Lockdown
  2. Using this very narrative of Spread of the virus, Delhi police dispersed a multi month sit in protest on the citizenship laws imposed in the state.
  3. Kerala’s Government issued an alert extending the enforcement of Covid-19 and public gathering protocols till July, 2021. No more than 10 people are allowed in a public gathering in the state till date.
  4. Opposition parties such as the United Democratic front had to halt their protests against the government policies due to increase in covid cases in Kerala.
  5. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued standardized operating procedures to be followed during the festive seasons with respect to the social gatherings and containment zones in particular.

    1. Operating procedures were also issued on preventive measures in the market which majorly included:

      1. Self Regulations by the Market associations
      2. Liability of owners for maintaining physical distancing and crowd management
      3. Penalties for non-adherence to guidelines.

Social Rights and Equality

In a country like India, It is desirable that there is increased intergroup homogeneity and decreased friction among such groups. Social barriers have existed well before covid times and the pandemic has only led to its heightening.

  1. Due to increased Islamophobia, there were reports about Muslims not being allowed to enter into hospitals or any other public spaces
  2. Domestic violence and mental traumas linked with Covid-19 were on the rise. The call centers operated by the Social Justice Department received numerous distress calls.
  3. Domestic workers and casual laborers suffered the worst due to the Lockdowns that were imposed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a call for unity stating that Covid Virus does not discriminate between races, religion and gender.
  4. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued many notifications and guides helping the youth to avoid the stigmas and prevent discrimination associated with the pandemic

Isolationormativity Linked With Pandemic

Through the means of this paper, I would like to promote the concept of a term called Isolationormativity as suggested by Matteo Winkler, a professor at HEC Paris. In one of his articles in Forbes, he talks about coining this new term which encompasses the aspects of normative ethics or moral philosophy along with a Public health terminology, Isolation.

Normative ethics focusses on classification of things as morally right or wrong whereas isolation, according to WHO disease Control Priorities Handbook refers to “a key precaution to reduce pandemic threats in the absence of antivirals, antibiotics and vaccines.”

Man is by nature a social animal and putting him behind a roof and four walls can not only have serious mental implications but can also cause the heightening of the prevalent social issues thereby disturbing the existing status quo. For instance, asking someone to stay at home during the pandemic may prove to be a necessary safety precaution, but is it morally the correct thing to do. Well, in some cases it isn’t.

A simple example to substantiate my cause is that of India and other Asian countries where exploitation of the LGTBQ+ is on the rise as they are subjected to extreme torture and exploitation by their toxic family members. During the first four phases of the COVID-19-related lockdown, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years.

To put it in the words of Matteo Winkler, Some homes are safe spaces, but not all home spaces are safe.

Isolation alone cannot be sufficient in handling the pandemic as it heightens the existing gaps in our society. Example the phrase, Wash your hands focusses on the immediate necessity of the action (I.e. washing your hands with soap or hydro alcoholic gel) but doesn’t reflect the marginalization of around 9% of the world population (around 666 million people) who have no access to such sources of water.

This is one of the most common issues faced in refugee camps in remote areas like Syria, Lebanon, and Africa where alcohol and other dangerous substitutes are used as clean water is not readily available. Thereby a more realistic version of this phrase would be to say Wash your hands… if you have access to water which, around 29 % of the world population doesn’t.

Hence these stringent emergency measures have become the new normal intensifying the Social imbalance in our society.

These two examples prove that Morality and isolation need not always go hand in hand. So the question arises, should the state (Governments in this case) intervene to decide the ethics that will govern our actions?

The answer to this is not a simple one as it varies depending on the geopolitical and socioeconomic setup of various states. Excessive government involvement in well-established democracies like India, United States of America may prove to be beneficial as long as basic ideals of the constitution are not violated. What makes it easy to judge such violations is the long history of hit and trial that these countries have had with Democracy.

But the same might not be true in countries like Zimbabwe, which are still at their initial stages of imbibing these democratic ideals. Excessive involvement might only lead to inefficient utilization of the scarce resources and further marginalization of the already deprived sections of the society.

Conclusion

The nations satisfactory performance with respect to rights such as Freedom of Movement, Personal Integrity and Security, Basic Welfare, Effective Parliament, judicial Independence, Civil Society Participation, and Local Democracy helped contain the adverse effects of the Pandemic.

In the words of the Union Health Minister, Mr. Harsh Vardhan, “India’s pre-emptive, proactive and graded approach ensured a plateaued graph of COVID-19 cases and a significant number of unoccupied beds in the health facilities at any point in time.

It is often said that the best way to judge any Democracy is to see the result it produces and the challenges it overcomes. These challenges have existed for a long time and have only evolved with the incoming wave of Covid-19.

Author: Kshitij Raj.

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