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Coronavirus tragedy in India, what is the reason?
Coronavirus tragedy in India, what is the reason?

The author is looking for the reasons for the tragedy with the coronavirus, which quite unexpectedly hit India in recent weeks. In addition to the government's carelessness in lifting restrictions on holidays early, he points to the neglect of public health needs. The rich have forgotten that the diseases of the poor will reach them, because for the virus we are one population.

This month, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister in India's multimillion-dollar capital, Delhi, tweeted that the city is experiencing an "acute shortage" of medical oxygen. This message is highly eloquent and instructive. First, he turned to social media, refusing to operate through official channels. This indicates a lack of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (although this is in part due to the fact that Kerjival is not a member of Mr. Modi's party). Second, Kerjival's tweet highlights that Twitter has become the primary tool for Indians to cry for help.

The isolated stories of people finding oxygen or a hospital bed via Twitter cannot hide the cruel reality that we will soon be running out of hospital beds. There are not enough ambulances to transport the sick, and there are not enough hearses to transport the dead to the cemetery. Yes, and the cemeteries themselves are also not enough, as well as firewood for funeral pyres.


We are told of hundreds of thousands of new infections and thousands of deaths every day, which is certainly a gross understatement. Under these conditions, it is easy to blame Modi for the epidemiological disaster. Of course, his government has a lot to blame. When the coronavirus hit India, it introduced harsh quarantine measures that hit the poorest and most vulnerable people in the first place. At the same time, the prime minister did not consult with the country's leading scientists.

At the same time, he did not seize the opportunity to strengthen the national health infrastructure, and his administration gave little support to those who lost their jobs or income as a result of restrictions.

Untimely holidays

Rather than taking advantage of the low incidence of sickness in previous months, the Modi government began to make boastful statements, allowing large-scale Hindu religious festivals and sports events with large numbers of fans.

The ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Modi has been accused of stockpiling essential drugs and holding massive campaign rallies and events that would make Donald Trump blush.

(This is not to mention how the authorities used the pandemic to enact draconian colonial-era laws to curb freedoms, with the Modi government continually blaming various minorities for the epidemic, arresting reporters asking embarrassing questions, and recently demanded that social media, including Facebook and Twitter have deleted posts criticizing the authorities, allegedly as part of the fight against the virus.)

India's sensation of a pandemic will be shaped by a colossal second wave. But the horror faced by the country was caused by more than one person and more than one government. This is a monstrous moral failure of our generation.


India can be classified as a developing or middle income country. By international standards, it does not spend enough on the health of its population.But behind this lies India's many health strengths. Our doctors are among the most trained in the world and it is now well established that India is the world's pharmacy thanks to the pharmaceutical industry specializing in the production of effective and cost-effective drugs and vaccines.

However, it is clear that we suffer from a moral deficit. First of all, this applies to the rich, to the upper class, to the highest caste of India. This is most noticeable in the area of ​​health care.

Money led to medical apartheid

India's economic liberalization in the 1990s led to the rapid growth of the private health sector. Such shifts ultimately shaped the medical apartheid system. First-class private hospitals treat wealthy Indians and overseas medical tourists, while public health facilities cater to the poor.

The wealthy are provided with the best possible care and treatment (and the super-rich even have the ability to flee to safety on private jets). At the same time, the rest of the country's medical infrastructure is kept on parole. Those Indians who can secure a healthy life for money prefer not to notice the widening chasm. Today they cling to their wallets tightly, while other people cannot call an ambulance, a doctor, get medicines and oxygen.

Journalist experience: don't skimp on your health

I have been writing about medicine and science for almost 20 years. Among other things, I worked as a Health Editor for the leading Indian newspaper, The Hindu. The experience has taught me: in order to ensure the health of the population, you cannot cut corners by saving on trifles. Now the rich find themselves in the same situation as the poor, and they will have to pay for the failures of public health care in the same way that only the most vulnerable in India used to pay for it.


To look away from the tragedies around us, to break away from reality, fleeing in our small world, is a political and moral choice. We do not consciously realize how shaky our health care system is. The collective well-being of a nation depends on the manifestation of solidarity and compassion for each other. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

Our inaction aggravates the situation gradually, step by step. We don't call attention to the needs of the vulnerable because we ourselves are safe. We are not asking for better hospitals for all Indians because we can afford excellent private health care ourselves. We believe that we can fence ourselves off from the state's dishonest attitude towards our compatriots.

Remembrance of the Bhopal tragedy

In India, there have already been tragedies that prove the fallacy of this approach.

On the night of December 3, 1984, this highly toxic compound was released from a storage tank for methyl isocyanate at a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal. What happened later became the worst industrial disaster in history.

According to official figures from the Indian government, a total of 5,295 people have died from this leak, and hundreds of thousands have suffered from chemical poisoning. Someone says that there were many more victims. On the eve of the disaster and immediately after it, chaos reigned at the enterprise. The company that owned the plant did not comply with safety measures and procedures, and the local population and doctors did not know how to protect themselves from poisons.

Over time, toxic substances from the enterprise infected the soil and groundwater in the district, due to which the incidence of cancer increased there, the number of birth defects and respiratory diseases increased. The area is still extremely toxic. The company, local, state and federal government of India are constantly shifting the blame on each other.People started dying decades ago, but the suffering continues to this day.

I moved to Bhopal after the accident and grew up living with people who, generation after generation, have paid the price for the "gas tragedy," as they call it. Many Indians remember Bhopal only as the site of a half-forgotten disaster. The gas tragedy is far from them, and it has already become the property of history. But living in Bhopal and seeing the consequences of the leak, I realized very clearly that monstrous failures, like colossal successes, are always the result of joint action or inaction, when people ignore the signs of trouble.

A lot went wrong then, and a lot of people are to blame. During the accident, safety systems were malfunctioning, which could slow down or partially restrain the release. Sensors for measuring temperature and pressure in various areas of the plant, including in the locations of gas storage tanks, were so unreliable that workers ignored the first signs of impending disaster. The refrigeration unit that lowers the temperature of the chemicals has been shut down. The flare tower, designed to burn the methyl isocyanate leaving the scrubber, required piping replacement.

But what happened next is even more instructive. Indians have largely forgotten this tragedy. The people of Bhopal are left alone with the consequences. Wealthy Indians do not need to come to this city and they ignore it. Their indifference is tantamount to a signal that one can turn away and not watch how their fellow Indian citizens suffer.

A native of this city, photojournalist Sanjeev Gupta has been documenting the consequences of this accident for many years. Whenever Bhopal is brought up again by the media for another chapter in a long-running legal drama, it is his photographs that go into the news. Huge funeral pyres are now burning in the Bhopal crematoria, burning victims of the coronavirus, Gupta said. This is much worse than the picture he saw in 1984.

Albeit unintentionally, we have created a system that is letting us down. Perhaps the tragedy of covid-19, like the gas tragedy, should teach us that our decision to remain silent when others are suffering will not go without consequences.

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