On May 12th, Prime Minister Modi launched an ominous relief package of Rs. 20 lakh crores to transform the Indian economy. Whereas details are said to follow within a week, the complete repeal of all existing labour laws in the state of Uttar Pradesh may be a discomforting hint at what will happen to the rest of the country. Right from the start, the measures to tackle the virus which the government chose were an expression of a larger transformation processes in Indian society. Since the beginning of the year, the hindu-nationalist government further expanded control measures – from the introduction of the repressive Citizenship Amendment Act to the hasty implementation of the COVD-19 lockdown cutting off millions of people from food supplies.
These are extraction from conversations with women activists in Ahmedabad about response strategies to this crisis:
Women are particularly affected by the current crisis,” explains UN Women’s director in New Delhi, Kanta Singh. “It is much more difficult for women to get a formal employment contract than for men. Therefore, they suffer particularly from the layoffs. Women are the ones who care for the sick, and if there is a corona case, they are particularly at risk. ” They are also mainly responsible for household work, whether they work or not. If there are now additional obstacles to feed families, it is them who have to shoulder this additional burden.
The network of rationed grocery stores is supposed to ensure supplies during the crisis. India’s food distribution programme is the largest in the world. Introduced in the Second World War, it was set up to prevent workers from escaping the city during periods of crisis, based on fears that war production would otherwise collapse. Similarly, in the current crisis people cannot just simply leave the cities due to the potential of the virus to spread further, but also as a measure of regulation and restriction imposed on large number of informal workers. As a result, the government has approved an aid program of 1.7 trillion rupees to expand the existing program. In the state of Gujarat where Ahmedabad is located, each family receives 3.5 kilos of flour, 1.5 kilos of rice and one kilo of lentilsfor each month under quarantine.
Ration cards are usually given to families living below the poverty line. But this line is shifting these days. “Most women are primarily responsible for the purchase and preparation of food, even if, as day laborers, they ensure a large part of the family’s livelihood. They are the ones you can see on the road these days to collect rations. We also need to watch closely how this will impact women’s position in the household and whether there will be increases in domestic violence, ”she says.
The website of the ration portal is colorful and flashes with current information, pictures of bulging rice sacks. How exactly you can fill out the application for the ration card is difficult to find. In federal India, every state has different rules. To simplify this, the city of Delhi has set up an app, in Ahmedabad, volunteers are helping to fill out the application, but there are massive constraints. Kairun Pathak reports that some of the requests from lower caste applicants are simply not recognized. Social distancing works best along dividing lines such as work status, religion, caste and gender – with devastating consequences.
These are translated parts of a German article which appeared in Jungle World. The full version can be acessed here. Photo credit: Samina Malik and Kairun Pathak.