This refers to your cover story on the economic toll of the Covid pandemic (The Pandemic Poor, July 5). As India battles the most devastating public health crisis it has seen in a hundred years, its deep social divide gets even more glaring. The situation brings to mind how images can look completely different depending on which side of the telescope we are looking through. Viewed from one end, despite the pandemic, life goes on in fair comfort for the well-to-do, who continue their wine and caviar routines, albeit virtually, their lifestyle with its glitz and glamour all intact. This India, with its deep pockets, shines on. But when we look through the other end of the telescope, the scene is dramatically opposite, with the tragedy of the pandemic being further aggravated by sheer poverty, forcing people to sell their souls to survive. In this pandemic of inequality, there is yet another paradox. While the hard-earned savings of the lower strata were completely wiped out in the face of job losses, leaving them to bear “the whips and scorns of time”, those in the higher income category reported an increase in savings for the simple reason that a lockdown for them meant lesser avenues to spend. In this context, it would be worthwhile to quote Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, who, while delivering the 2020 Nelson Mandela annual lecture, made an interesting observation: “The Covid pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities. It exposed the myth that everyone is in the same boat. While it is true that we are all floating in the same sea, it is clear that some are in super yachts, while others are clinging to drifting debris.” Unfortunately, as incomes slump, it is the children of lesser gods who are watching Lord Shiva perform his ‘taandav’ more closely than anyone else.
Sangeeta Kampani, New Delhi
It is true that 97 per cent of our citizens have experienced a fall in their income in 2020-21, but it is the middle classes that have suffered the most. They had to face wage cuts and job loss even as they were hit by inflation, which is at its highest since 2013-14. Most of the people in these classes park their savings in fixed deposits, where interest rates are falling continuously. Adjusted to inflation, the rates can even be negative. Moreover, medical bills have increased considerably. Thus there is a triple whammy for the middle classes. The government has not announced any relief package for them. Inequality in incomes is a big problem for India. The rich have become richer over the past two years. The income and wealth of the super-rich have expanded, with more and more Indians joining the billionaire club. Instead of taxing them to finance its public health expenditure, the government is resorting to borrowing.
D.B. Madan, New Delhi
Crores of people are “shuttered and shattered” for no fault of theirs, as the ruling dispensation, drunk on the toxicity of power and riding the horses of majoritarianism, has no vision and strategy to provide jobs and give people some relief. While people get nothing more than the promise of loans, the State’s purses are opened liberally while providing relief to the corporate world, including loan waivers. No wonder the total personal income tax collected this year exceeded the collection of corporate tax. This is reflected not just in crores of people losing jobs, but also in the growing gaps between haves and have-nots. The poor are not victims of the pandemic, but of the system’s apathy and lack of vision.
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
We can see the quality of life of people going down in front of our eyes. Many people have lost their jobs, shopkeepers have lost their customers and the tourism industry has come to a halt. The worst sufferers are the labouring poor. Last year they had to trudge long distances to their native places, with many dying on the way, and this year they returned to work only to be caught in the second wave with nowhere to go. Children belonging to poor families have lost out on online education, with those in rural areas facing the worst due to lack of internet connectivity. Many have dropped out because of inability to pay the fees. Announcing big financial schemes is fine, but we have to ensure that the benefits reach the poor on the ground. The weakest link of the chain has to be strengthened. Governance at the lower levels has to improve.
R.D. Singh, Ambala Cantt
This refers to Bound to a Sinking Boat. The pandemic-induced misery goes beyond the agonising pain of separation when our loved ones fall prey to the virus. The huge toll on the nation’s economy is reflected in job losses, wage cuts and folding up of small businesses. Nearly everyone—from artists to artisans, start-ups to the self-employed, tycoons to traders—is bearing the brunt of lockdowns as normal life goes out of gear. For those living on the margins, it is a question of survival. There is a palpable fear in the air as neither life nor livelihood is safe. With the virus mutating and posing new challenges to the medical fraternity, that sinking feeling is not going away any time soon.
Vijai Pant, On E-Mail
This refers to your story Shots Fired Against Vaccine Apartheid (July 5). Multinational pharmaceutical companies are making hay under the pandemic sun. Rich countries of the global north hoarded vaccines for their citizens, denying them to the poorer countries of the global south. We need to move away from “nationalism to internationalism, competition to cooperation, from charity to solidarity”, as Progressive International cabinet member Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla points out, no matter how utopian it sounds in the midst of the ongoing mayhem.
Dr George Jacob, Kochi
This refers to Milkha Singh Diary (July 5). The indomitable spirit of the great athlete was evident till the very end. Having faced the trauma of Partition at a raw age, his struggles to prove himself at the international stage and his heartbreaking miss at the Rome Olympics are the stuff of legend. He more than made up for the absence of competent coaches and the paraphernalia of support staff, which are taken for granted now, with his single-minded devotion to running. It’s no surprise that the icon’s life found its way to the silver screen. For all the athletes who followed him, right until the present crop, it has remained difficult to emulate the feats of the ‘Flying Sikh’.
Vipul Pande, Nainital