Natural adversities are unavoidable. The present pandemic trapped people in a whirlpool of problems. The corona led crisis has caused havoc across the country. Hospitals failed to accommodate the flood of patients, those in dire need of oxygen. Death stared at the faces of helpless forcing the patients to succumb on roadsides. Thousands battled for their lives in makeshift arrangements. The moving scenes of patients ferried in auto rickshaws, cars, carts, and bicycles with attendants literally begging for medical help – were deeply shocking. On the other side, the super rich elite Indians thronged airports, rushing to board private jets. Affording millions to escape the wrath of pandemic, this elite exit opens the window to peep inside the ever increasing income inequalities in the country.
What forces the elites to escape country? Safety and survival is paramount for every individual irrespective of the distinction of social identity. In realizing this indispensable option, the available or possible resources and alternatives available for everyone are different. The ease of access and the affordability to reach out to the possible avenues remain confined within the circumference of socio-economic ambit of the individual.
Delhi – with its vast network of private health care system offers advanced super-specialities. The city attracts patients from all over the country for specialised treatment and consultation. As the daily toll of infections set new records, the capital city was all hands up to cope with the mounting rise of infected patients. The surrender of oxygen deficient Delhi propelled the pace of deaths. The battle for survival opened a new range of challenges forcing people to explore all ways and means to combat the uncertain, unprecedented and undeterred pandemic monster.
The urgency to flee to safer destinations accentuated by looming danger became an 'unavoidable necessity'. The crumbling healthcare system in the capital hijacked all hopes of rescue from the deadly onslaught of mutant virus strains. The privileged few looked beyond borders to breath for their lives. The vast majority left with Hobson's choice grappled with the adversity to fend for themselves.
India being one of the fastest growing economies of the world contrastingly provides a dismal example of extreme income inequalities. The rich are getting richer at a lightning speed and the poor struggle to earn daily wages to support families for basic needs. The privilege to afford the cost of quality education and healthcare services by private firms remains a distant dream for millions of people negotiating the whiplash of poverty and diseases.
The corona pandemic has mainly jolted middle and low income families forcing them to face the innumerable constraints emanating from paralyzed economy. Last year the long spell of lockdown led to substantial job losses and pay cuts in private sector. Instead of bridging the income gaps, corona pandemic starved millions of people from earning opportunities. The likelihood of the widening wealth gaps is thus an undeniable fact. In such a distressing scenario, public institutions need to be rich and resourceful to meet out the needs of people in an emergency.
Daily wagers, labourers, unskilled and semi skilled workers who number in millions earn meagre amount of money to sustain their families. For basic minimum requirements they struggle from pillar to the post on daily basis. Those paid paltry monthly salaries bury their desires to manage with the minimum income. The needs and wants are cut to size. Any eventuality that deprives them from earning opportunity pushes them further into the dungeons of sufferings and starvation. So how can such people think to afford the cost of private services? Their only hope resides within the boundaries of the system. Poor cannot afford to fly. Poverty does not offer them the wings to glide over the challenging obstacles. Their hopes are indigenously rooted in the soil where they belong. The cushion of public support offers them solace to strive and struggle every day. Privatization costs. And its cost can at times penalise the poor in dire circumstances like the present pandemic.
The deeply stratified population of the country on socio-economic parameters justifies the necessity for a robust network of public institutions. The base of these aam aadmi centric support centres must be strengthened. Critical services like health, education, electricity, safe drinking water are primary needs of the majority of people reeling in poverty. Gradual erosion to outsource such fundamental pre-requisites to facilitate profit oriented private actors will be taxing for common masses. Government must strengthen its patronage to invest in life saving and life supporting institutions to keep the expectations of common people intact.
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Education, South Campus, University of Kashmir