Trigger Warning: Mention of attacks, murders, deaths, and suicides.
The pandemic affected each and every aspect of our lives. It was brought to light during the pandemic that we cannot afford to exercise most of our fundamental rights. Let’s take a closer look at what the pandemic implied for the people of a developing country, India, wherein most people have little to no access to the basic amenities of life.
The first and foremost right that most lost access to was the domain of education. What the pandemic impacted the most, evidently, is the sector of education. (Human Rights Watch, “Pandemic’s Dire Global Impact.”) In the past two years, education has been completely shifted to the online platform. When schools closed down on account of the pandemic, it affected children unequally. Different children have different levels of access to conducive learning environments, financial, education resources, opportunities and so forth.
In 2020, only a mere 749 million Indians, out of a staggering 1380 million, had access to the Internet. (Statista, “Number of internet users in India.”) Under Article 21(A), the Right to Education is a fundamental right. Notwithstanding, when education shifted to the online mode, a substantial portion of the population was left out. No reparations were provided for them. They lost access to education two years back and are still disconnected from their studies.
This shift has had deleterious ramifications as of now. In Kerala, a girl set herself ablaze as she did not have a smartphone to attend online classes.
A survey was conducted by ‘Hard Work No Pay’ in order to discern the state of rural education in India during the pandemic. The survey yielded the following results: Out of 45 respondents in total, we discerned that 66% of them owned smartphones. Nevertheless, only 4% of them actually had online classes because Government schools simply did not take the initiative of organizing online classes.
Parents of 30 respondents said that if online education continues, they will unenroll their children from schools and compel them to engage in vocational services. This lines up with UNESCO’s finding that almost 24 million learners are at risk of not returning to school in 2020 following the education disruption. “Socio-economic factors are behind this risk, including the need to generate income, increased household and child-caring responsibilities, early and forced marriage and/or unintended pregnancy in certain contexts or fear of a resurgence of the virus. Those who did not have access to distance education during confinement are also at risk. (UNESCO, “How many students are at risk.”).”
Notwithstanding, at the other end of the spectrum, wherein children did have access to unhindered education, their mental health was beginning to decline on account of the incrementing workload.
A study revealed that the long-lasting pandemic and its onerous measures such as lockdown, the COVID-19 brings negative impacts on higher education. Now, it is incumbent upon us to develop interventions and preventive strategies to address the mental health of students. (Son et al., “Effects of COVD-19”.)
Priya Yadav, a Third Year student, stated thus, “The course load has become remarkably demanding. Professors set more assignments because ‘we are at home.’ No one understands that we have to keep up with our college work, extracurricular activities, internships, and to top it all, house chores.”
Amisha Jha, a First-Year student, said, “All this work, and yet no socialization. With all the clubs and societies scheduling their meetings on the weekends, I have been rendered unable to differentiate between a weekday and a weekend. It is becoming difficult for me to cope because most of the time, I cannot even pay attention and listen to my lectures, for my parents are perpetually bickering. Moreover, the Professors make little to no accommodations even after I apprise them of the troubles I am facing. I got diagnosed with COVID-19, and I got an extension of a trifling day for submitting my assignment. Situations like these make me want to drop out. I have no motivation to attend online classes. I do not know how long I can continue like this.”
Neither did the Election Commission prevent nor punish the political parties for flouting Covid protocols during their campaign rallies for Assembly polls in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the Union Territory of Puducherry. The election rallies caused an upsurge in coronavirus infections and may have led to the second wave. (India Today, “Second wave of Covid cases.”)
The concept of mental health was made a trend during the pandemic, but still, little to no accommodations were made for the students, even during the detrimental second wave. While every person received the news of the demise of someone or the other in their family, educational institutions went on unheeded. Public examination bodies had kept their students in a state of limbo for three months wherein they did not bother to notify them whether the examinations would be cancelled.
Students all over India were already in a state of unease on account of the surge in deaths, and this inconsiderate step by the State as well as Central Boards added to their apprehension.
Everything worsened during this period and, in particular, access to medical as well as mental health facilities. During this wave, India faced an acute shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, intensive care unit beds, personal protective equipment (PPE kits) for medical health professionals and oxygen cylinders. (The John Hopkins News-Letter, “India’s devastating second wave.”)
People on social media applications, such as Instagram and Twitter, we’re looking for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders for the people in need instead of the government. People began looking for help on the aforementioned sites, especially Twitter, instead of approaching Government officials for help. (Hindustan Times, “Tweets soared.”) Funds were being raised on social media applications, all around the world, in order to ship the requisite medical equipment to India. India’s official death count by the end of June 2021 was 4,00,000. (India Today, “2nd Covid wave.”)
In September 2020, amidst a raging pandemic, three oppressive farm laws were enacted. The first one gave freedom to the farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). Farmers opposed this, saying that the states would lose revenue if they would not be able to collect ‘mandi’ fees, and it would eventually lead to the end of the minimum support price (MSP)-based procurement system and would lead to exploitation by private companies. The second one gave farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness farms, large retailers and the like for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price.
They refuted this, saying that this law would weaken the negotiating power of the farmers. The third one sought to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and wanted to do away with the imposition of stock holding limits on such items except under ‘extraordinary circumstances. They negated this, saying that big companies would get the freedom to stock commodities, and they would end up dictating the terms to farmers.
The farmers began protesting against those laws, and as of the 5th of March, 2021, 248 farmers were confirmed dead. On the 29th of November, those three laws were repealed. It is demoralizing to think about how the Central Government put the farmers’ lives at stake for a span of fourteen months just as part of an election stunt in order to win the upcoming elections.
Another one of our fundamental rights which we cannot afford is the ‘Right to Information. 15,986 RTI applications were filed in 2021. Notwithstanding, only a mere 45% received the information they actually seeking for. while making their way back to their hometowns. (The Times of India, “Over 1.59 lakh RTI applications.”)
On account of the sudden announcement of the lockdown, while making their way back to their hometowns, over 8,700 migrant workers died on train tracks back in 2020. (The Economic Times, “Lockdown 2020.”) Their return was not facilitated in any way whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Labor and Employment stated that they did not have any data on migrant workers who lost their jobs and lives during the COVD-19 lockdown. (Nath, “Govt. has no data.”)
On similar lines, the Central Government staggeringly stated that no one had died due to oxygen shortage during the second wave. (Sharma, “No deaths due to lack of oxygen.”) This perfectly encapsulates how ‘Right to Information is just another brilliant right which lost its efficiency on account of its poor implementation.
In an epoch like this, it becomes imperative to have access to credible, authentic, reliable and independent news sources. We should not have to beseech the government for letting us exercise our fundamental rights. Things could take a turn for the better only if we were to become inclusive in our approach. We should take into consideration all possible things that can go awry on account of a turbulent internet connection.
We should make a place for ample rest in-between work. We should conduct classes free of remuneration. Requisite backup provisions should stay in place in case someone loses internet connectivity (We should be open to the option of having students connected via a phone call). We should look forward to the possibility of conducting offline classes for students in small groups, keeping in mind all necessary healthcare provisions. We should begin arrangements to deliver food, free of cost, to the houses of COVID patients.
We ought to dole out devices and books free-of-cost to students who are in need of them. Students in Illinois will now be permitted to take five excused mental health days. (Franklin, “5 Mental Health Days.”) Those who decide to take one will not be required to provide their school with a doctor’s note and will be able to make up for any work that they missed. This wonderful initiative should be emulated by each and every institution.
We should take necessary steps in order to ensure that the workload is manageable and would not become a detriment to mental health. We must recognize our privileges and realize that not everyone is born with the same set of privileges. It is our duty to make sure that the gap between two individuals is as low as possible in terms of financial insecurities, opportunities, resources and so forth. Therefore, we should be patient with everyone around us because there is a raging pandemic, and at the end of the day, all of us are simply trying to cope. Single-Handedly, we may not be able to solve all the conundrums which are present in this world, but ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, and our first step should be to turn into a kinder people.
Yana Roy is a first-year student of Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College (University of Delhi). Last year, she published her first e-book entitled, ‘My dead mother is alive’. She has a predilection for unfunny jokes and riddles. When she is not busy dismantling normative structures of existence, she listens to Taylor Swift and writes about love because Swift reckons it’s the one thing which makes humans human.
Featured image source: Le Counseil de l’Europe