Year after India's COVID-9 lockdown, how communities, people and places weathered a time unlike any other

FP Staff
·10-min read

The nationwide lockdown announced on 24 March 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic was not an 'equal' experience for Indians. The humanitarian crisis that unfolded as thousands of migrant workers, stranded far from home, began a long march back, remains the defining image of that inequality. Other sections of Indian society too were disproportionately affected, as were certain places.

As we cross a year since the lockdown, we're looking back on stories from our archives that captured how communities €" people and places €" navigated a time unlike any other.

PEOPLE IN FOCUS

€" ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers were at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, foot soldiers in the national effort against the virus. But in places like rural Maharashtra, they had little access to essential resources like face masks and sanitisers.

ASHA and anganwadi workers have to survey and identify suspected cases, list the people who came in contact with afflicted individuals, monitor them daily, inform Supervisory Medical Officers about these cases, and create awareness about the disease among community members. They must also consistently follow up with self-quarantined and isolated individuals, to check if they have developed any COVID-19 symptoms, Sanket Jain observed in his report for Firstpost. But many of these ASHA workers were still reeling from the effects of the 2019 Maharashtra floods, and the lack of protective gear when performing their duties had left them with a sense of fear. Read the full report here.

€" As learning moved online, teachers needed to adapt to a new idea of the classroom, one that posed far more stressful challenges than their real world ones.

Lorelle Murzello conducted interviews with teachers from SSC, ICSE and IGCSE schools in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata to find out what their experiences of the pandemic had been. These teachers reported what the loss of the academic calendar had meant for their work. The shift to online modalities of learning also saw an increase in documentation, a restructuring in the way content is curated and delivered, and a rapid change in the job roles of and expectations from teachers. Trying to maintain work-life balance while ensuring their students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds were not left behind and also coming to grips with new technologies was par for the course for these educators. Read the story here.

€" India's lockdown imposed a heavy toll on the lives of transgender people. Here too, socioeconomic status and location further exacerbated the effects of the crisis.

Firstpost's Suryasarathi Bhattacharya reported on how the hijra community, which faces ostracisation even in normal times, was struggling during the lockdown. Those who depended on traditional livelihoods were worst hit, but income drying up was only one issue among many. Denied housing, community members tend to live in cramped, shared spaces €" conducive to the spread of a virus. Many community members also lack documentation like Aadhaar and ration cards, making it difficult to access State sponsored schemes. Read the complete report here.

For trans men €" who do not typically live in the traditional "dera" system €" reaching out for help and resources during the lockdown was an uphill climb. Faced with financial difficulties, many were forced to return to unsympathetic families and struggled with gender dysphoria. Since the issues of transgender men are different from those of the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, other trans men took it upon themselves to provide essential supplies and online/offline support to their peers. Read Geetanjali Gurlhosur's report for Firstpost here.

Also read: A year since India's COVID-19 lockdown, an overview of how artists and cultural institutions navigated a crisis

Siku, a Nupi Manbi (trans woman) from Manipur, found her job and life in Bengaluru suddenly at end with the lockdown. Returning to Manipur, however, proved to be an especially difficult journey with an end that seemed far from close, when Siku wrote this first-person account for Firstpost with the help of Santa Khurai, Manipur-based queer and Nupi Manbi activist, artist and writer. Read Siku's story here.

€" Craftspersons or toymakers in Channapatna, Karnataka, lead precarious lives like any other artisan in India. And with the onset of the lockdown, this precariousness worsened.

Sixty kilometres from India's Silicon Valley Bengaluru, is the town of Channapatna in Ramanagara district. Known as the 'toy town' of Karnataka, it is home to 3,000-5,000 artisans who practice the unique craft of making wooden toys protected under a GI (Geographical Indication) tag. The lockdown meant pulling the brakes on the hundreds of units and factories in the town, which in turn meant loss of income for thousands. Shailaja Tripathi spoke with these artisans and found that many were left with unpaid loans and a mounting anxiety about their lives and livelihoods. Read the report here.

€" Mental health professionals recognised the severity of the lockdown and pandemic's impact on people's mental health, and responded to the crisis by optimising digital communication, hosting webinars, Instagram lives, and curating pro-bono counselling helplines.

But even as they rushed to fill the gaps, mental health professionals grappled with the lack of timely, in-person contact with clients; the barriers that prevented under-served or marginalised groups from accessing adequate care; and the inability to reach people at the rural/grassroots level. The full report can be accessed here.

€" For the disabled community, strained access to information and help during the lockdown severely disrupted life.

In April 2020, Srinidhi Raghavan wrote for Firstpost: "Being restricted to their homes is not new for people with disabilities. For decades, they have reiterated that the inaccessibility of the world has forced them to remain indoors. So in many ways, the lockdown is also not new. However, for those who do leave their homes, the battle to navigate society is a difficult one. For many disabled people, online delivery services and accessible mobile phone apps have improved connectivity and access to an independent daily life. But the lockdown and the ensuing restrictions change much of this." Read it here.

€" For MPSC aspirants in rural Maharashtra, the lockdown curtailed access to vital library services and educational resources.

Students in Maharashtra's villages often travel several kilometres to the nearest library to prepare for the MPSC exams, or move to big cities and towns to work part-time even as they study. The lockdown meant that most were stuck at home, where their typical seven-hour study routine had whittled down to two, and books and other material were scant. Full story here.

€" Lavani performers were reduced to relying on odd jobs, aid from fellow artists to survive the lockdown in the absence of government help.

Lavani is an art form performed in sangeet bari theatres, dholki fadacha tamasha, and banner shows. The lockdown, however, was cruel to the community of lavani performers, as they ran out of patience and savings. Approximately 15,000 artists in Maharashtra are exclusively dependent on lavani, which includes dancers, singers, music accompanists and technical staff. Their livelihoods are dependent solely on performances, rendering their earnings akin to daily wages. They formed multiple collectives to appeal to the government to either reopen the theatres soon, or provide them some temporary monetary relief. Bhushan Korgaonkar reported for Firstpost; read here.

€" Amid the lockdown and pandemic, HIV-positive patients confronted diminished access to life-saving drugs as also fears of being socially ostracised.

Firstpost's Anvisha Manral interviewed HIV+ individuals and NGO workers who recounted their experience of the crisis, when access to healthcare, despite being as indispensable as ever, was strained €" and in some cases elusive. Read the report here.

€" The COVID-19 lockdown aggravated the Indian modelling industry's lapses, and models were left to deal with the fallout.

Stalled dues, pay cuts, apprehensions about COVID protocol being followed on shoots, lack of regulatory oversight, and a culture of silence that dissuades open discussion of their issues €" models in India told Jaishree Kumar that the crisis had dealt the industry a grievous blow. Read here.

€" In Ladakh, vulnerable migrant workers faced an increasingly uncertain future as the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown unfolded.

As the national lockdown played out, reports from different parts of India highlighted the predicament of migrant workers. Walking long distances or crammed into whatever mode of transportation they could still find, these individuals were desperately looking for a way to get home.

A region that sees a significant influx of migrant workers is Ladakh. Migrants come in from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and other parts of the country, working in extreme weather, usually without proper protective gear or insurance. But the sparse livelihood options back home make migrating the more feasible choice.

In a photo essay for Firstpost, Ritayan Mukherjee chronicled the circumstances of these migrant workers in Ladakh. View it here.

€" Weavers and artisans in Karnataka struggled to pay for their daily needs in lockdown, as government relief packages barely helped them pay their bills, adding to their debt instead.

On 14 May 2020, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa announced a relief package of Rs 162 crores that included power-loom weavers, who were in financial distress because of the lockdown. As per the package, each power-loom weaver wouldl receive Rs 2,000 as one-time relief aid. While it may seem like the problem with the package was that the amount provided was several times lower than the weavers' average income, the true shortcomings of the relief package went beyond that. Vaishnavi Suresh reported for Firstpost. Read the story here.

€" Faced with a pandemic, lockdown and government apathy, NGOs ensured online education addressed the learning needs of disabled children.

Even as institutions transitioned to digital platforms to cope with the disruption of traditional teaching methods amid the coronavirus crisis, the absence of the disabled community from conversations on education raised questions over the sustainability of online academic practice. Read the report here.

€" Sugarcane field labourers' lives were upturned by rising debt and inability to access education in a locked down Maharashtra.

Countless young people in Maharashtra, whose families are engaged in cutting sugarcane, were faced with the reality of entering into an endless cycle of debt, labour in the fields, and eventually being forced to discontinue their education. "Our whole lives will be debt-riddled€¦ If we skip work or even take a break, we are harassed into paying fines of Rs 300 for (not) cutting the cane and Rs 300 for loading it," one of the interviewees noted. Full story here.

€" For survivors of trafficking, 'home' amidst a lockdown only meant grave uncertainties, and a fear that the "new normal" would push them back into the net of trafficking from which they escaped.

Four survivors of trafficking spoke with Firstpost's Arshia Dhar about life in lockdown, and why it has meant a resurgence of old fears, uncertainties. Read here.

PLACES IN FOCUS

€" >Jamshedpur's lockdown was captured in 10 images by photographer Abhishek Basu for Firstpost. Together, these images are a visual record of how life, industry and religion were at a standstill in Tatanagar. View the photos here.

€" In 'Lessons from >Manipur', we reported on how community workers aided the state's vulnerable groups during the coronavirus crisis and lockdown. Read the story here.

€" >Boragaon's farmers suffered rotting crops and losses worth lakhs amid the lockdown, merely months after devastating floods. Firstpost's report here.

€" In the August 2019 floods, >Arjunwad (population: 5,641) was among the villages in Maharashtra that was completely submerged. A mere seven months later, before they could recover from the damaging deluge, Arjunwad's residents were grappling with the consequences of the coronavirus lockdown and outbreak. Complete report can be accessed here.

Also See: A year since India's COVID-19 lockdown, an overview of how artists and cultural institutions navigated a crisis

An Oral History of the COVID-19 Crisis: 'I felt I was going home; little did I know what that would mean'

Next level lockdown: French group goes underground in cave for six weeks to study effects of acute isolation

Read more on Arts & Culture by Firstpost.