While some leaders of developed countries have started to play the blame game about the reasons why there are so many casualties, most people are just trying to cope with everyday life. Especially in third world countries like India, most people are not looking for people they can blame; they are mainly concentrating on how they can survive another for another week without a pay check. While most of my friends and family back in The Netherlands are concerned about my personal struggles, my thoughts are however with these people: I’m concerned about the hundreds of millions of farmers, labourers, office clerks and other workers. Not only have they not received any payments or salary for weeks, but they really have no ‘control’ over this. Whether or not they receive any relief is not up to them: it’s up the government and the many small and large NGO’s within India who ae responsible in taking care of these most vulnerable people.
Pune in a total curfew until 27 April: I’ve been living and working in the city of Pune since November 2016. Currently, we’re in the fifth week of the lockdown period and this part of the country has been hit hard with spread of the virus. Whilst some rural areas in India seem to be virus free for the most part, the city of Pune has had to deal with a relatively high number of Corona positive cases; approximately 700 patients have been identified by the local authorities, which is a huge number when compared to other big cities in India and it is still increasing. After the federal authorities announced a second period of lockdown within India, some local authorities have been sealing off hard hit areas. On Saturday, I told my friends in Koregaon Park about the perks of living in a Corona-free area: it’s still easy to commute within in the area, I haven’t seen many police barricades. Unfortunately things have changed now: the local authorities have enforced a curfew within the entire city until 27 April. People will not be allowed to travel between neighbourhoods and shopping for essentials is only allowed between 10am and 2 pm.
Standing in line for groceries, being surrounded by beggars: Going outside for groceries is the only ‘outing’ we’re allowing ourselves right now, and it always feels as a welcoming distraction. Walking around in a (sometimes) fully stocked-up supermarket is enjoyable. However, observing the slums on the way to the supermarket is heart-wrenching. Not only are these people living in close proximity – with a lot of risk to be spreading the virus – they’ve also run out of money. Except for the occasional vegetable- or chicken seller, apparently everyone seems out of work currently because I’ve never seen so many people walking around in the slums. These people are facing a large number of hardships; some might not be able to top-up their mobile phones, which is the current lifeline of the modern world. Or worse: what if people cannot buy their medicines? During one of our walks we ended up waiting in line to buy our groceries and we were surrounded by beggars. I’ve never seen so many beggars around me and they all seemed so helpless.
Feeling privileged, again and again: A couple of days ago I received a call from the Consul General, the representative who’s now helping Dutch companies and citizens to deal with the Corona Crisis in India. He wanted to know if I was doing well. Furthermore, he wanted to know if was interested I travelling back to The Netherlands. Apparently, KLM or some other airline was planning to fly back stranded travellers. While being home with my friends and family in the Netherlands seemed like a pleasant perspective, I thanked him kindly for the offer and told him we would stay back. We could have travelled back earlier, but didn’t want to. Despite some of the hardships we’re dealing with now, India is our current home and the situation in the Netherlands is only better in a limited number of areas. More and more shops are opening up again and it has become much easier to travel. One of our small challenges right now is getting some wine and beer to stock up our bar once again; it’s not possible to buy beer, wine or spirits as the government has ordered a shutdown of all the wine stores. If we would had had stocked up our bar before the ban was enforced, we would not have been empty right now. Fortunately we can live with this, but if anyone has a good bottle of Scottish Whisky, he or she is free to contact me.
The government did the right thing by locking down the country: One of my upcoming hardships will be next month’s electricity bill. My electricity bill will be much higher because I’m using a lot of energy to operate my AC’s. The timing of the lockdown couldn’t have been worse: March, April and May are the hottest months in Pune and some of the AC’s in my house are in constant operations. However, I will pay my electricity bill with a big smile on my face, because I’m in full support of this lockdown. If the government hadn’t enforced the lockdown, the number of infected would have been much higher. Some projections have calculated that there would have been hundreds of thousands of Corona infected people in India if the authorities didn’t declare the current lockdown(s).
Opening up the country, slowly: As I wrote earlier, this lockdown has negatively affected a lot of the poor people. That’s why I’m very pleased with the latest announcements: the government has allowed some industries to slowly open up their businesses. While opening up of the economy will be done in a phased approach, some areas are going very far in allowing businesses to start up again. The local authorities in Kerala have allowed restaurants to reopen from 20 April. The state widely known as ‘God own’s country’ has also allowed the use of cars again, with a maximum of three people in the car. However, nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Everything depends on the number of positive cases. If the numbers do not decrease, the authorities will be declaring additional disruptive measures to fight the spread.
Another week of total lockdown: Relaxing some industries has been rolled back in Pune, at least in parts. The current count is simply too high to start thinking about going back to work again. Therefore, businesses have been asked to keep plants and working industries shut for another week. The news arrived on Sunday, just when we all thought that the city was moving into the right direction. It was another disappointing news article, which gave me less hope of a total relief from 3 May. I immediately tried to narrow down a long list of must watch series on Netflix. Furthermore: I’ve also checked the fridge and with other grocers; are we fine? Do we need anything? We’re totally fine and with food and entertainment, we will definitely survive.
Advocating for help, for the poor: But what about the poor? How have they received this news? While the mercury will not be lowered than 36 degrees for the upcoming 6-7 weeks, most of these people are already suffering. Dealing with another disappointment could change their temperament in a big way: some in and around Pune were probably already preparing to start-up their work again, expecting some financial relief within a couple of days when the first pay checks would be given. Unfortunately this is not all true and they need to wait for at least another week. It probably doesn’t help at all, but I’m trying to advocate for help by writing articles like this.