My maid was worried and wanted to come back to work even during the lock-down. She is living in the nearby slums with her three young daughters in one 10 feet-by-10 feet single room. For livelihood they all work as house maids. They go out in the morning and generally use loos available in the parking space of apartments where they work. Lock-down is forcing them to go out to relieve themselves in the open, early mornings, daily. COVID-19 has put most of the working women living in slums in similar fix. The term Social distance is virtually meaningless for people living in the roadside ‘jhoparpatti’ and slums, it has increased the proximity of living in cramped surroundings for 24X7. In addition, increase in stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdown in community support system make women and children even prone to abuse and violence. This makes them more vulnerable of getting contagious to the virus. I came to know that during lock down there were increase in domestic violence. Staying in home has limited the women’s ability to get away from the domestic abuses.
The situation of younger children is even worse in these ‘jhoparpattis’. It is more than a month now that government took a measure to close schools to contain the spread of virus. School closures impacts not only students, teachers and families, but has far-reaching economic and social consequences. The impact for closure of government schools is more severe as it caters mostly the disadvantaged children, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems and consequent economic cost to families who are not working. Even Supreme Court has expressed concern over the impact on mid-day meals to children during the closure of schools. It issued notices to all state governments to explain how they would ensure the supplies reach the vulnerable to avoid large scale malnourished among the children. It is estimated that closure has increased protein deficiency by 100 percent, calorie deficiency by 30 percent and iron deficiency by 10 percent among disadvantaged children of government schools, popularly known as ‘holiday hunger’.
UNIESCO has recently reported that pandemic has forced more than 90 percent of the world’s student population out of schools and universities. Some governments have already recognised the need to address the gaps in food provisioning left in absence of school meals. Bihar has announced to transfer the cash value of school mid-day meal into children’s account. In Kerala, rations have been delivered to the homes of young ‘anganwadis’ children. But at larger level keeping the government’s delivery mechanism into consideration I doubt whether these initiatives would be enough to bring out of the mess.
This is true that in present context maintaining social distance was the best option available in India to contain the spread of virus, and data also supports the argument. In comparison to other countries India has somehow been successful in showcasing the benefit of it. The death from the infection has been less till now in contrary to the predictions made by experts. Despite all problems in the health sector community transmission of the virus has been very limited. Particularly in states like Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha where experts thought the community transmission would be fast because of high migration and poor health care system, spread has been relatively low.
It is not just the relative success in containing the virus, the extreme lockdown was also understandable as an immediate response to an unknown crisis. But I suspect if it is extended exactly in the present form the risk of underprivileged may be bearing the brunt of ostracisation, lack of hospital care, loss of wages, homelessness and hunger. In my opinion the relaxation within the control environment may be considered. There is need to think at the local level on lockdown policy. With proper screening and tracking, people may be allowed to move within their own periphery. Even government schools may be opened. Opening of schools may be helpful in keeping children out of cramped and unhygienic environment, this will also help in making parents more comfortable where both need to go out for their livelihood. My experience suggest that children are safer in school than in their home. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, this week has found that the closure of schools may have limited benefit in slowing down the spread of COVID 19 although its economic and social cost are high. Although this study may not be that much contextual, but the limited point here is to see if extreme lock down for longer duration doesn’t become a trap, from where coming out may become very difficult.