Covid-19: Causing and Reducing class inequalities.
The world has seen the unprecedented. The Covid-19 pandemic that hit the entire world and brought every difficulty that no country was ever preparing for. The world is seeing first recession triggered by non-economic factor- a health emergency and a sharpest decline in per capita income since 1870. But, the consequences like any other calamity have burdened the already poor more.
It is well known that inequalities persist despite so much progress in India and the world but the pandemic has put it forward in a crystal-clear format before us. For example, Inequalities of wealth, class, caste, education, health-care and gender.
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As the lockdown was announced, millions of people lost their jobs- among these people were the construction workers, daily wagers, street vendors, domestic helpers, etc. one thing which is distinct in this class of workers is their class of ‘informal workers’. It is among such workers that millions of migrants began their exodus from cities and urban centers back to their villages.
It is notable that where IT professionals or other formal workers had their work going on in some format through homes and had their incomes coming, the informal workers who came to be known as ‘migrants’ had no such avenues to survive and not even enough savings to go back home.
People of lower castes who left villages to find better life in urban areas returned to same social conditions of humiliation. It presents a classic example of the invisible class and caste inequality which persists in society and got highlighted during pandemic.
Moreover, schools and colleges were shut down. Even as online classes continued after a while, not every school or teachers could afford to provide these classes or not every student could afford a high speed internet connection with a smartphone or computer. Digital divide triggered massive gap in learning. This will also result in dropping out of girl students from the schools and colleges.
According to a field study conducted by Azim Premji University, it is found that children have lost much of the foundational abilities in one or many subjects. Surely, this will have more share of children coming from rural or poor families.
Closing of schools and halt in mid-day meals have led to rising hunger prevalence in children who benefitted from the scheme.
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Amidst pandemic occupancy of hospitals, although private sector has helped in solving the health crisis, the skyrocketing treatment charges were not affordable by the middle, lower and poorest class of the society. So, the socially marginalized groups are the worst-affected in terms of high mortality.
Moreover, the vulnerability of women has increased manifold. Most women working in informal sector and paying for their independence have returned home to face suppression. Halt in education may cause many girl students to drop out of their schools and colleges and be forced to marry risking their career, health and dignity. Moreover, the plight of women facing domestic violence and mental abuse has also risen during confinement in pandemic. The lack of resources in a conservative family can cause in-equal treatment of the women.
According to Oxfam Report, the richest 1000 people of the world recovered their losses in nine months while the poorest section would probably take a decade to get back to their pre-pandemic position.
But every crisis has an opportunity. So, has been the case with Covid19 as well. The confinement at home, distance from workplaces pushed people to shift online. Many businesses boomed especially start-ups dealing in e-learning, e-pharmacy, e-shopping, etc.
It reduced the inequality in terms of providing equal opportunities to use the same internet in own creative ways and benefit from it. Businesses whether big or small in the physical market stood on the same plane while performing online.
Moreover, it pushed the people to leave the hesitation and learn online operations (working, communications, etc.) for their own good.
In the field of education, wherever high-speed internet was available, it provided affordable and easy access to learning in the remotest places and evenly to girl children as well.
Therefore, few things need urgent attention- Accessibility to high-speed internet, accessibility to e-learning platforms for all need to be developed in a decentralized manner. Affordable, accessible and efficient health-care institutions need strengthening. Welfare approach must be followed towards the informal workers. Only when grass roots are strong can we become ‘Vishwaguru’.