The hell that India has become

April 29, 2021 • 11:00 am

The Guardian has a “long read” piece by Arundhati Roy, a famous writer who lives in Delhi (you may have read her Booker-Prize-winning book The God of Small Things). If you have any interest in India (or let’s just say “humanity”), it is well worth reading.  Click on the screenshot to do so.

Roy deals with two connected topics, the pandemic that’s now ravaging India (the infection rate may soon rise to half a million per day), and the diffidence of the Modi government, which is corrupt, anti-Muslim and Hindu-centric, and absolutely without empathy.

I’ve written about both these things before, but Roy, being “on the ground” in Delhi, has a horrific account of what it’s like to live in the center of the maelstrom. She notes that deaths and infections are likely to be grossly underreported given the largely rural population of India, and that 78% of healthcare in urban areas and 71% in rural areas is handled by the private sector, which means that the poor are simply unable to afford healthcare, much less vaccinations or oxygen. The black market that has sprung up around these things, while typical of India in a desperate situation, is further hitting the poor, and, as you may have seen from photographs, the poor are being refused hospital admission (or asked to bring their own oxygen tanks), or are left to die on the sidewalks. There are so many bodies that there’s a shortage of wood to cremate them.

(From Guardian) People with breathing problems caused by Covid-19 wait to receive oxygen in Ghaziabad. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

The Modi government under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) isn’t positioned to help, either materially or psychologically. The fact is that Narendra Modi is basically an evil man—the kind of man who encourages or allows Hindus to kill Muslims. I consider him even worse than Trump, since he doesn’t even pretend to care about the plight that’s destroying India. Yet he’s still too popular to be deposed.  And while earlier he assured the world that India, the world’s second most populous country, had the virus under control, that proved to be untrue.  It’s clear that, like me, Roy is a bitter opponent of Modi and his minions, but you can read about that in the article. I’ll give just one quote:

As this epic catastrophe plays out on our Modi-aligned Indian television channels, you’ll notice how they all speak in one tutored voice. The “system” has collapsed, they say, again and again. The virus has overwhelmed India’s health care “system”.

The system has not collapsed. The “system” barely existed. The government – this one, as well as the Congress government that preceded it – deliberately dismantled what little medical infrastructure there was. This is what happens when a pandemic hits a country with an almost nonexistent public healthcare system. India spends about 1.25% of its gross domestic product on health, far lower than most countries in the world, even the poorest ones. Even that figure is thought to be inflated, because things that are important but do not strictly qualify as healthcare have been slipped into it. So the real figure is estimated to be more like 0.34%. The tragedy is that in this devastatingly poor country, as a 2016 Lancet study shows, 78% of the healthcare in urban areas and 71% in rural areas is now handled by the private sector. The resources that remain in the public sector are systematically siphoned into the private sector by a nexus of corrupt administrators and medical practitioners, corrupt referrals and insurance rackets.

Healthcare is a fundamental right. The private sector will not cater to starving, sick, dying people who don’t have money. This massive privatisation of India’s healthcare is a crime.

The system hasn’t collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps “failed” is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day just to mark ourselves present, like roll call in our school classrooms. We speak to those we love in tears, and with trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.

Oh, and a cry for help:

The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster. Not least because one man makes all the decisions in this government, and that man is dangerous – and not very bright. This virus is an international problem. To deal with it, decision-making, at least on the control and administration of the pandemic, will need to pass into the hands of some sort of non-partisan body consisting of members of the ruling party, members of the opposition, and health and public policy experts.

As for Modi, is resigning from your crimes a feasible proposition? Perhaps he could just take a break from them – a break from all his hard work. There’s that $564m Boeing 777, Air India One, customised for VVIP travel – for him, actually – that’s been sitting idle on the runway for a while now. He and his men could just leave. The rest of us will do all we can to clean up their mess.

No, India cannot be isolated. We need help.

And here’s how to help: consult these articles, which give many links about how and where to give:

New York Times

Washington Post

Remember, India is the world’s biggest democracy, and despite the execrable government, the country and its people need our help. Please donate if you can.
h/t: David

37 thoughts on “The hell that India has become

  1. The Atlantic also has an excellent article about this unbelievable horror show in its current issue. What we’re seeing in India, going by that essay, is nothing more or less than the inevitable outcome of the total callous indifference of the wealthy
    towards the poor in India. You have to wonder, will Modi ever face a reckoning?

  2. Good lord, what a nightmare. I lived in Delhi for a few years, back in the nineties, and have always had a fondness for the city. I’ve donated now.

  3. What’s particularly galling to me is that they seemed to have had a lot more prep time than many countries, and yet the government is still this badly unprepared. You look at those early outbreaks in Italy and Iran, and there simply wasn’t any vaccine available at the time. But now there’s several. I understand how supply and logistics are factors things that take preparation, but still…your wave hit a year after everyone else’s wave hit. How did you spend that time?

  4. Competent or incompetent leadership is something we now know about. India is Donald Trump times 100. What we should be learning is – bad leadership is very deadly.

  5. I had open heart surgery on Sept 30 last year here in Massachusetts during that brief period when Covid infections had dropped to their lowest point in 2020. My anesthesiologist was from a suburb of Delhi. During my operation prep meeting the subject of Covid in India came up and he made an impression on me when he said that he didn’t believe that the infection rate in his native country was as low as the government had been reporting. He did not go into details about the health care system in India, but he did make a clear point that President Modi made Trump look good when it came to fighting the pandemic, and it was petty clear that he and the rest of the surgical team had a very dim view of Trump. This chat I had with him was just hours before my operation, so my mind was focused on that, but I will never forget the concern he shared with me and others in the room that the pandemic in India might end up being multiple times worse that we were experiencing in the USA. He had already gotten feedback from his family that infection rates were high, though the graphs in this article suggest that was not the case. And this was all before the shit hit the fan during the winter here in the States.

    1. I hope your open heart surgery turned out good for you. I had my go at it about 12 years ago at the age of about 60. As it happened my surgeon was originally from India and he was very good. I have to wonder now what he thinks of the situation in India.

  6. I keep reading how bad things are in India but I cannot find any hard data to support it. The confirmed per capita cases are one third of what the US had in January. Deaths per capita are one fifth of the US in January. In both November and March, Czechia had a death rate 10 times India’s current rate and it was not news. The rate of increase in India looks really bad but so did the EU and the US in the fall and Czechia’s was much worse.

    I understand that India has worse recording but that seems extreme. The western media is anti-Modi (for good reason) and the selective reporting seem too biased to be credible.

  7. This situation is undoubtedly terrible. The graph with the 7-day average of daily DEATHS is awful partly because it appears to be rising exceptionally fast. I think daily CASES is misleading if used to compare between countries, is useful mainly to giving a feeling for what is likely to happen a few weeks later with respect to deaths, and so also with respect to very serious illness, maybe longterm, and hospitalizations.

    However, let me point out something maybe not noticed enough. Right now, using the Worldometer figures, that 7-day average in daily deaths in India is approximately 2,800. The population of India is more than 4 times the population of US. And so, PER POPULATION, the deaths per day in India would be still lower than they are right now in the US: dividing by more than 4 gives less than 700 per day for India ‘reduced’ to US-size population. In US, it has settled into the 700s, though still dropping slightly, for the last three weeks. It has dropped by a factor of a bit less than 5 since it was at its worst, about 3,400 deaths per day, just about exactly when you guys finally got the mass murderer out of the White House.

    I’m not trying to claim the situation in India is at all not terrible. Let’s hope it won’t go up to a 7-day average of about 13,000 deaths per day over connected 7-day periods; that would be equivalent to Trump’s legacy.

    How accurate are these figures? The USes are almost consistently about 35% lower than the actual, at least for the year 2020, if one defines those deaths as ‘deaths that wouldn’t have happened if Covid never existed’. Let’s hope India numbers are not much more inaccurate than that.

    1. From what I can gather, the numbers in India are a gross underestimation of the true numbers as there’s not the means nor capacity to get a grip on the true numbers – especially in rural areas. I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt how dire the situation is there even if the official numbers aren’t quite so bad.

  8. So much suffering is impossible to comprehend. Throwing some money that way seems futile, but I still donated. I think the Biden admin is sending vaccines to India, but is it too late and will the Modi government accept them or even distribute them equitably? And this is a world problem, after all. With an upcoming 500,000 cases a day, who knows what mutations may emerge. This is some scary shit.

  9. “I consider him even worse than Trump, since he doesn’t even pretend to care about the plight that’s destroying India. ”

    Modi may well be worse, but I’d be interested in any quote from the mass murderer which shows, to at least some (perhaps naively deluded) people, that Trump ever gave a good-god-damn about anyone dying of Covid, anyone except for his momentary allies of course. His actual record as president shows him up pretty clearly, even more than many of his behaviours in the 3 years previous.

    1. I think it was very clear although some will disagree – Trump was and is a psychopath. His own close relative, Mary Trump agrees. I do not know if this is true for Modi. So if Trump had continued as president we have no idea how bad if might have gotten here. We still don’t know in India. Among Tump’s characteristics – he has no conscience, no remorse, no empathy, a tendency to lie, manipulation of others and problems with the law. It is the perfect package to put in charge of anything where you want to fail.

  10. I think that we can say with some confidence that populist rule, be it in the US, India, Eastern Europe or elsewhere is not conducive to a good policy to fight a pandemic.
    I must say I’m very impressed with the US vaccination effort under the new (non-populist) administration. I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) only Israel and the UK are doing even better there.

      1. Yes my point exactly, they can hardly come more viciously populist than Bolsonaro. Brazil is an unmitigated disaster.

    1. Yes, it is peculiar how Boris Johnson and his cohort could screw up on so many things there, but then do such a good job getting the vaccine into people. And in future, with some, but fewer than US, of the nutjobs who won’t get vaccinated with no good reason not to, Britain will do even better. It certainly helps that both them and US have little problem with supply.

      In Canada it’s been slow here, but I think the governments are mostly doing quite well, should reach suppression of Covid beginning by August—and suppression of creation of invariants which could eventually turn things in a negative direction again. I just wish the governments here would ignore completely the whining of some enterprise operators who cannot prioritize anything but their own short term profits. The financial support for them and employees is decent here AFAIK. But we could use social attitudes more like those in Norway and Iceland.

  11. I finally caught up with reading the news properly (after accidentally spending a couple of days working on an old version of a Statistics journal paper – oops!) Arundhati Roy’s writing is very evocative and her righteous anger about Modi hits its target with precision. As Andrea says at #13 above, thanks for the links!

  12. I really loved the short amount of time I got to spend in India, but don’t have much positive to say about their political system.

    It puzzles me why a disease that has been bouncing around the globe for more than a year has suddenly increased in mortality in India particularly. Trying to understand the actual mortality rates is difficult, as Covid deaths worldwide and even within Indian states are defined in so many different ways.
    It looks like cases are climbing rapidly, as are deaths, but the data I find shows the death rate remains more or less steady at around 1%.

    A Nature article about the surge did include the possibly hopeful information that the cause is probably not new and deadlier variants of the virus, but a relaxing of social behavior coupled with low vaccination rates. I suppose that is better news than the idea that a new and deadly strain is running through the population, including those recovered persons considered immune. But of course, consistent and understandable data is in short supply.

    Although I have no reason to argue with any of Roy’s assertions in the article, I might urge a bit of skeptical caution. I was not familiar with her before, but doing a bit of reading, it seems like much of her rhetoric involves railing against capitalism. Hating capitalism or espousing Taoism does not necessarily invalidate one’s views on pandemics or issues of government, but it does tend to impair objectivity, and certainly does not convey medical expertise. It is not an activist’s goal to write objectively or dispassionately on any subject.

    1. The system ( not using any other word because I could get in trouble) did not and is not taking any effort to document the cases properly.
      They initiated and funded a lot of crowd gathering for elections and festivals. People are waiting outside crematorium for days to burn the bodies of their dead loved ones. People around me are dying and it’s scary.

  13. Well it seems to me that the powers-that-be in India have had a WHOLE YEAR to get ready for the next inevitable wave. A year to ensure enough oxygen, enough ventilators, enough PPE. How many bombs, guns and tanks did they accumulate in that time? You can bet lots. The government has already shown that it doesn’t give a continental for the vast majority of the population when, in 2016 it wiped out the life savings of most if its people by declaring that 1000 and 500 rupee bank notes were no longer valid. The pandemic response is just another example of Modi’s total contempt for his own people. I WILL NOT be donating anything to such a corrupt system.

  14. Modi is The Worst! 5 years ago I wrote my column on his currency changes which further impoverished the poor – quite an achievement in India – with his almost overnight deletion of higher denomination Rupee bills. (here first, variously republished)

    Terrible. Just terrible. Note how the right wing populists like Modi, Bolsonaro and Trump are the worst “leaders” in a pandemic. And he dodged his criminality in the Gujarat riots in the 1990s. A__hole.

    D.A., J.D.

  15. I tried both links and both insist I subscribe to the bloody newspaper first. This article is open and contains links for helping.

    I notice that in Varanasi, people are lined up to cremate their dead on traditional wood fires, a sure-fire (pun intended) way to decimate forests and pollute the air. Varanasi built an electric crematorium (Is that really better?) at Harischandra Ghat many years ago and it was unpopular, used only by the poor. I see in the news now that people are lined up there too.

    Roy has bee writing about the crimes of Modi, the BJP and the RSS for years. She knows what she is talking about. One more great woman! Oh, sorry, person.

    1. “…decimate forests…”

      The religion (??), which puts its (formerly human) corpses on pedestals for the scavenger birds to gobble up, does accidentally have something to be said for it.

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