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How Covid-19 exposed social inequality in contemporary India

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By Abheer Kukreja

The catastrophe of Covid-19 not only killed lakhs of people but has also been a pretty traumatic event for the ones who survived. Not just did it derail the world’s economy but exposed the social inequalities faced by people each day.

Due to the essential and imperative lockdown imposed by the government in the wake of Covid-19, we saw that it became extremely difficult for the underprivileged sections of society to be able to get basic life necessities. Not only that, we saw an immediate migrant crisis amidst the lockdown just because they were unable to get the requisite amount of food promised by the government. Not only that, Covid-19 has brought to wider consciousness inequalities in areas such as healthcare and technology. These inequalities are felt by people across ethnicity and income. Minority groups and people with disabilities have faced multiple barriers in accessing essential services.

One of the most disturbing consequences was the inequality in approaching quality healthcare. India’s healthcare infrastructure , unfortunately, failed to reach each and every individual. Another major impact of the lockdown was on the education sector. During the pandemic, school authorities, government officials, teachers and children suffered. As students were asked to sit at home, it became difficult for them to cope up. Nonetheless, they learnt and adapted to the new waves of e-learning and home-schooling through new technology. 

The sphere of education in this period has definitely taken a hit but it has also nurtured the inquisitiveness of students and allowed them an escape from the anxiety. There has been big encouragement to e-examinations to help students engage more in learning. Though it has caused a discrepancy in a student’s schedule but so far has helped them to raise their level.

However, this mode of education also ended up in creating a larger digital divide. Many students were not able to get the adequate amount of tools necessary for e-learning. The problem is deep but if we choose to look at the bright side, it gives rise to more volunteers who have come forward to help each other learn. Be it government enforced radio-type learning or providing free books, the nation has come together in times of difficulty. At the end of the day, only those who have been working hard and were determined to perform well have emerged victorious. Teachers across the world have helped their students better their academic results.

In the post-Covid scenario, governments struggle to cope with the aftermath of lockdowns. One of the most pressing economic challenges is the increasing income inequality. Conventional containment responses to a pandemic (including social distancing and lockdowns) tend to affect the poorer segments disproportionately as they typically have jobs that cannot be performed remotely, such as those of construction workers, taxi drivers, housekeeping and maintenance staff, factory workers etc. Their skill requires them to be present at work sites. Moreover, a large percentage of low-skill jobs are centred in the unorganised work segment. Hence, these workers remain extremely vulnerable and for them, the lockdown essentially means loss of livelihood.

On the contrary, the educated white-collar workforce is largely insulated from the impact of lockdown. People who are at high value-adding jobs in financial services, consulting, information technology can work from home (or any other location) seamlessly. Contrary to them, the poorer segments tend to have very little or no savings and limited access to credit. Thus, they remain at the receiving end of the work spectrum. 

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