This refers to your cover story on Dalit achievers (50 Dalits Remaking India, April 26). I appreciate the choice of subject made by Suraj Yengde, who wrote the opening essay (Dalit Time). You have selected the best people among Dalits working for the community in different fields. But I must point out one glaring omission: Bezwada Wilson, who won the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2016 for his efforts towards eradication of the dehumanising practice of manual scavenging in India. Mostly Dalits are engaged in manually removing excreta from dry toilets. Wilson was born in 1966 in the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) township in Karnataka. His father had been working for the township since 1935 as a safai karamchari (sanitation worker). Wilson’s elder brother too worked as a manual scavenger for the Indian railways for four years and then for 10 years in the KGF township. Wilson went on to become one of the founders and national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, which campaigns against manual scavenging. I think he should been on your list.
Srinath Gollapally, Secunderabad
This refers to your cover story on homemakers (Working Woman? Yes, Don’t Forget the One at Home, April 19). Union textiles minister Smriti Irani’s interview (‘When a Woman Chooses to Look After Her Family, Does She Do It with an Expectation to Be Paid’) proves the exception to the general perception that ‘beauty and brains do not go together’. She mocks the idea of monetary valuation of fulltime sundry household jobs like cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes and bringing up kids for paying wages to them as envisaged in the election manifestos of the Congress in Kerala and Kamal Haasan’s newly floated party in Tamil Nadu. They are obviously oblivious of delicate family relationships. However, Smriti Irani’s approach is based more on romantic feelings in cultured families of high socio-economic standard, where she belongs. Such bonds of love are generally ‘off the mark’ when it comes to ground realities in marriages made for the sake of convenience. Arranged marriages are indeed the norm in India. Enquiries are made about the girl’s skills in household jobs—particularly if she has no employable professional qualification—as the groom’s family is usually searching for a dignified housemaid when looking for a bride. The bride’s exploitation starts from day one with the customary cooking of some dish for testing her culinary craft. Enacting laws for fixing wages for household work, however, cannot resolve the complex and deep-rooted issues involved. Smriti Irani has rightly emphasised that such issues need “to be addressed through community interventions, while policy makers and public representatives can engage in bringing more debate around” them.
M.N. Bhartiya, Alto-Porvorim (Goa)
This refers to your story on resurgent Covid and vaccine shortage (The Vax Shot Caught Short, April 26). As the second wave of COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the country, it has got alarm bells ringing over supply of vaccines falling well short of the demand. Due to this shortage, several vaccination centres had to shut down. The Centre has no option but to ramp up the vaccination drive to get as many people as possible inoculated in the shortest possible time, while making sure that people strictly maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour. At the same time, we must understand that inoculating 130 crore people in a short time is an unattainable goal considering logistics and other aspects of vaccination. It is laudable that India has vaccinated more than 10 crore people so far, but keeping in view the rising cases and corresponding increase in deaths, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done to protect the entire population from the mutating virus. Eventually having to impose lockdowns that badly hurt the livelihoods of the poor is a result of bad decision-making all along the way. We don’t know how long the second wave will last, and being prepared for the worst is the only weapon to defeat the pandemic. Therefore, it is all the more important to place strict curbs on potential super-spreader events and increase testing and critical care facilities as well as production of vaccines.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
To say that India is in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic is to state the obvious. That it has registered more than 2.4 lakh cases and close to 1,500 casualties for more than six consecutive days heightens the magnitude of the crisis. The funeral pyres lit to cremate Covid victims make a depressing sight. The Lancet’s COVID-19 commission forecasts that at the current rate of the runaway infection, there could be 2,300 deaths every day by the first week of June. The situation is so grave that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has deferred his visit to India. The pandemic has brought about profound change in our thinking and understanding of life. With lives in the thousands being lost to the pandemic, we have awakened to the realisation that human life is precarious and transient. The second wave is having a devastating effect on lives and livelihoods, amplified by the piling of bodies in Covid-designated mortuaries and the homeward journey of migrant workers. It is pushing people to live in the shadow of death and despair. Anxiety and suffering engendered by the pandemic is a lived reality for us. Lockdown-like curbs have exacerbated hardships in many parts of the country. The general feeling is that there is no telling what will happen next. The healthcare system is teetering on the edge of collapse as evidenced by shortage of oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, antiviral drug remdesivir and vaccination doses. The government appears to be floundering helplessly in the face of the inexorable surge in cases. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s elation at the huge crowds in his election meetings and his counsel to maintain physical distancing and wear masks would appear to cancel each other out. His appeal to keep Kumbh Mela ‘symbolic came late and was by and large ignored by most devotees for all his sway over them. The other day we saw the incandescent flames of funeral pyres on the banks of the Narmada near Bharuch in Gujarat and realised the seriousness of the Covid situation. Visuals of several bodies being cremated on a single pyre for speedy disposal elsewhere in the country have deepened the gloom. We must accept the ‘human factor’ in the second wave and our share of the blame for creating conditions conducive to it. This is not to conceal the fact that the new variants of the virus are proving to be more infectious. But the deadly virus must be chuckling at election meetings and religious events, and the human folly behind them. Crowded rallies and mass gatherings, as in Haridwar as part of Kumbh Mela, facilitate the rapid spread of the disease and imperil lives.
G. David Milton, Maruthancode (Tamil Nadu)
The ongoing Covid pandemic appears to have been happily grabbed by all the non-BJP parties as a god-sent opportunity to fulfill their goal of dethroning the saffron party all over the country—at the Centre as well as in states where it is ruling single-handedly or jointly with a friendly party. Only time will tell how much the ‘secularists’ are able to achieve on this front.
Arun Malankar, Mumbai
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh’s push for crop diversification with water utilisation in mind (Watering a Green Evolution, April 19) is welcome move coming from the head of a state that was the main beneficiary of the green revolution. The country is yet to make an honest assessment of the green revolution’s impact on biodiversity and the environment. It is a big challenge worth being taken up by the CM to convince farmers not to continue with water-intensive crops. Meanwhile, promoters of green revolution should acknowledge the loss their idea caused to biodiversity and the nutrient quality of soil as well as rising input costs due to enhanced use of fertilisers and pesticides.
Srinivasa Rao, Vijayawada Duggaraju