24 January, 2021

Opinion | In India, COVID-19 Pandemic Has Painfully Laid Bare Our Societal Faultlines

A lockdown anywhere protects the rich and exposes the poor to human and economic challenges, writes virologist Shahid Jameel

The Long March
90-year-old Kajodi on her 400-km trek.
Opinion | In India, COVID-19 Pandemic Has Painfully Laid Bare Our Societal Faultlines

Kajodi was a powerful image. A lonely figure, the vast emptiness of the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and the horizon dotted with high-rise buildings. In the aftermath of the national lockdown announced on March 24, the 90-year-old was trying to walk from Delhi-NCR to her village in Rajasthan, some 400 km away. The image infuriated me. Then it depressed me. Trained as a scientist—a biochemist and virologist to be exact—I was in demand for my views on the coronavirus outbreak. Relying on public health principles, I was advocating social distancing and a lockdown…. But wasn’t I being completely blinkered by the science, and not paying attention to the “public” in public health? Indeed, I was…and I was angry with myself.

How dare I sit in the comforts of my South Delhi apartment and pontificate to people living on the edge? How would I explain, let alone justify, “social distancing” to someone who lives in an urban slum in Delhi or a chawl in Mumbai? One room with five or six people? My anger turned to depression. Over...



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