Drishtikone Newsletter #355: How India Battled the COVID Tragedy
How India battled various inimical and diabolical forces to survive through the COVID times is an epic worth reading again and again.
He was on his deathbed and said to his friend “There are only two writers of Bhashya in the whole of India. Today only one shall remain.”
He was talking about Bhartendu Harishchandra.
The great poet of modern India who said this was Shardha Ram “Phillauri.”
Born in Punjab - Phillaur - Shardha Ram was known as the “father of modern Punjabi prose.” Married to Mehtab Kaur, Shardha Ram wrote many things - including the first primer in Gurmukhi script - called Punjabi Baat Cheet. The British used that as the foundational book for ICS officers to clear their tests. He also wrote Sikhan De Raj Di Vithia - which had details of Sikh rule and Sikhism.
He was not just a literary figure in the Punjabi world but also one of the greatest writers in Hindi. His novel “Bhagyawati” was written in 1888. It is now considered to be the first Hindi novel ever written.
It was found by Dr. Harminder Singh Bedi Dean and Head, Department of Hindi, Guru Nanak Dev University. Dr. Bedi helped publish the works that were lost from public in Shardha Ram Granthawali.
But why are we talking about this great literary figure today?
Because every day in billions of homes across the globe, one of his most popular writings resonates.
Om Jai Jagdish Hare.
Shardha Ram ji wrote the words of the aarti that is chanted every day in all Hindu homes. And during the current festive season, its chants will be everywhere. While we feel the divine presence of our deities in our homes, let us also spare a thought for that great poet and writer whom no one really remembers now. Despite his pioneering contributions to Punjabi and Hindi. A true "Open Source" contributor.
Most importantly, we need to study the Aarti to understand how one literary creation of a great poet became the central chant in every Hindu household across the length and breadth of India irrespective of region, language, or sect. If you want to know how a great product promotes itself and becomes part of the consciousness of the masses? Look at the Om Jai Jagdish Hare.
PS: unfortunately, Shardha Ram ji was villified by the fanatical Sikhs who wanted to divorce any relationship of Sikhism to Hinduism or Hindus (exactly how Hitler wanted to divorce Christianity from Judaism - Read: Swastika and the Aryan Christ). So a person who first wrote prose in Gurmukhi, considered by some as a "sacred" language, was a big threat to a certain narrative.
Let me start off with a disclaimer - I am fully vaccinated for COVID with one of the options available in the US. Have seen a chronic situation worsen really badly since then.
With that, let us start reviewing how the COVID situation laid bare the deep colonial and imperial tendencies in the global arena.
The first COVID-19 case in India was confirmed in India (Kerala) in January. (Source: CNBC)
On March 4th, universal screening of all International flights was started. Passengers were either quarantined or isolated at home or sent to hospitals based on the screening results and risk profile. By then, there were severe restrictions on passengers.
Suspension of all visas for Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and China; Compulsory health screening for passengers arriving directly or indirectly from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan (Source: PIB)
In March, PM Modi began the tough measures with a one-day Janata curfew on March 22nd. Indian residents were requested to voluntarily stay indoors.
On March 24th, the government followed up with a 21 days lockdown which resulted in the shutting down of all offices, educational institutions, factories, and shops.
Curiously, On March 24th, United Nations claimed that the lockdown by India was at their behest. (Source: UN News) Almost suggesting as if the Indian domestic decisions were managed by them. Talk about vanity!
In March 2020, a Brookings article shared the state of India's healthcare system.
Using data from National Health Profile–2019, we observed that there are 7,13,986 total government hospital beds available in India. This amounts to 0.55 beds per 1000 population[2,3]. The elderly population (aged 60 and above) is especially vulnerable, given more complications which are reported for patients in this age group. The availability of beds for elderly population in India is 5.18 beds per 1000 population. (Source: Brookings)
The number of ventilators was estimated at a maximum of 57k.
Assuming that 50% of these ICU beds have ventilators, we arrive at an estimate of 17,850 to 25,556 ventilators in the country. Even in the best-case scenario where all ICU beds are equipped with ventilators, we have a maximum of ~57k ventilators to cater to a growing number of COVID-19 patients. (Source: Brookings)
India had a long way to go!
How Tablighi Jamaat spearheaded the upsurge
Tablighi Jamaat also organized a large congregation in March 2020. Thousands of Tablighis had attended the event.
Soon enough, it became known that around two thousand people, quite possibly a lot more, had attended the event and as late as the 22nd of March, 2500 people were present at the premises of the Markaz Nizamuddin and around 1500 of them left the place on the 23rd of March. Even so, it meant that around a thousand people were still stuck at the global headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat as of the 24th of March. (Source: Opindia)
Despite the threat to others' health, the Tablighi Jamaat members spread out to create an unprecedented surge in numbers.
When the Jamaat COVID spreaders were put in the Quarantine Centers, they created a further mess. Including spitting at the first responders, the nurses, and doctors. (Also read this coverage by the ABP news - Tablighi Jamaat attendees spit at doctors at Tughlakabad quarantine unit)
Nizamuddin Markaz cluster (single source vector) impacted at least 23 States and Union Territories. The folks from the Nizamuddin Tablighi event accounted for
- 84% of cases in TN
- 63% of cases in Delhi
- 79% of cases in Telangana
- 59% of cases in UP
- 61% in Andhra Pradesh
Something that even Tamil Nadu's officials reiterated.
The intentions and the tactics of the Tablighi Jamaat were bared by a Muslim and a Tablighi who eventually left Islam because of what he experienced.
In fact, India Today was also able to unearth an audio where the Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad can be clearly heard instructing the Jamaat followers to openly violate the government/medical COVID-19 guidelines. Check it out. Also, listen to the people who are coughing while he is speaking in the audio.
Tablighi Jamaat shares its mission and objectives with another terrorist organization - Jamaat-i-Islami. Which is - Islamic Supremacy and Annihilation of non-Muslims from society. Here is a good representation of the similarities and differences between the two 'Jamaats' (organizations).
Given the clear instructions from the Tablighi Jamaat Chief and the confessions of an ex-Tablighi Jamaat (who was still "in the closet"), and the high rate of infections that the Jamaat members spread in 23 states and Union Territories, the malefide objective was obvious.
Yet, the press and media went out to bat for the Tablighi Jamaat.
A case of wilful connivance?
Kejriwal's Delhi Government orchestrates Migrant exodus
March saw another sad scenario. Thousands of migrant workers (originating from UP and Bihar primarily) were pushed out of Delhi and Mumbai.
The Delhi government made these announcements - so the migrants would leave Delhi.
Not only were the announcements made, but the Delhi Government also disconnected the water and electricity connections of the migrants while announcing that buses were waiting at the border.
In order to somehow get the UP-based migrants to their homes, Yogi Adityanath stayed up all night organizing transportation.
The statement said the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath stayed awake all night to organize transportation for people from UP and Bihar coming from other states. “At night, transportation officials, drivers and conductors were called from home,” said the statement and added that 1,000 buses were arranged at night to bring back people stuck on the Delhi border. “The CM stayed awake all night and arranged 1,000 buses for people to reach their destinations from Noida, Ghaziabad, Bulandhshahr, Aligarh and Hapur,” said the statement which further said that food was arranged for these people and their children Friday night. (Source: Indian Express)
On March 30th, Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal wrote a strong missive to the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal over how the migrant exodus and the Delhi government's actions.
Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has written a strongly-worded letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on the exodus of tens of thousands of migrant workers from the national capital Delhi over the weekend that forced the Centre to ask bordering states to seal their borders and look after the migrants. The missive was sent after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah expressed grave concern over exposing the migrants to health hazard during lockdown to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (Source: Hindustan Times)
Of course, there was enough pliant media - domestic and international - peddling excuses and falsehoods from the Delhi Government.
Maharashtra also has the migrant flare-up
On April 11th, 2020, Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray addressed the state to extend the lockdown until "at least" April 30th. (Source: Business Standard)
Nothing untoward happened between April 11th to April 14th. April 14th, when India's PM Narendra Modi announced the extension of lockdown nationwide.
In Mumbai, suddenly all hell broke lose - specifically in the Muslim dominated areas.
In Mumbai, migrant workers gathered in Bandra in large numbers demanding to go home when PM Modi extended the lockdown on April 14th. They gathered at the Ahle Sunnat Sunni Raza Jama Masjid.
According to the Bandra police, people started gathering outside Jama Masjid near Bandra station around 4 p.m. The numbers soon swelled to around 1,500. “The people mostly comprised workers from other States and demanded that they be sent home as the lockdown, which was supposed to end on Tuesday, had been extended. Personnel from the Bandra police station, including senior officers, immediately rushed to the spot,” Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Pranaya Ashok said. (Source: The Hindu)
Remember, at this stage, Maharashtra had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country - by a huge margin!
All kinds of forces and diabolical players were involved in orchestrating such gatherings in various parts of Mumbai with a view to bringing the situation to a boil.
For example, Rahul Kulkarni, an ABP reporter peddled fake news to bring the workers to Bandra.
And, this "activist" Vinay Dubey, who was a self-confessed hater of Modi - was also pushing people to come out..
This Vinay Dubey was making rounds of Shaheen Bagh-style insurrectionist protests in the Mumbai area in March 2020. See the video from Kalyan/Mumbai.
How did the local administration in Mumbai respond to this situation? By doing a lathi charge!
Does something odd come out at you in these videos from Bandra and Mumbra?
The state government was busy pushing the blame on the Center as opposed to doing something concrete to stop the complete mess that was being perpetrated on Mumbai.
Given the priorities of the Maharashtra government (or rather the lack of it), Union Home Minister Amit Shah called up Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray to push him to take some action.
But then, Bandra was not the only flashpoint where such crowds gathered. Crowds also started gathering in Mumbra.
Per Wikipedia, 85% of Mumbra's demographic is Muslim.
Interestingly, Maharashtra was amongst the three states which profited from the crisis. These states - Kerala, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra - made the migrants pay for the train tickets in that situation.
The cost for the trains was borne by a combination of the Center and State. The Center was anyway bearing 43% and the rest was the responsibility of the State. Which apparently these states did not want to take on.
So you see the mismanagement by the Maharashtra government was at a whole other level. As is often the case, the state governments which play with the lives of people, started pointing fingers at the Central government for not providing enough migrant trains. The then Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal, hit back with the now famous 2 AM tweet asking for the list of the 125 trains. (Source: Piyush Goyal’s 2 am tweet: ‘Where is list for 125 trains from Maharashtra?’, Indian Express)
So here are some obvious questions:
- Were the crowds orchestrated by a combination of "activists", the press, and political and religious players?
- Were they really migrants?
- When the lockdown had already been extended in Maharashtra on April 11th, then how did April 14th (when PM Modi extended the lockdown) become a flashpoint?
- Finally - was all this orchestrated by certain forces in collaboration with the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra?
And, this is what the Indian Prime Minister called out in February 2022. But only after the whole scenario was long over.
Be that as it may, the migrant workers had been pushed out of two of India's largest metropolia.
Managing the artificially orchestrated Migrant crisis
In order to handle the unnatural crisis that the Delhi and Maharashtra governments had orchestrated against the migrant workers, the Central government started a new initiative named Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan (GKRA). It was the tackle the impact of COVID-19 on the workers. It was started with a fund of ₹50,000 crores (US$6.3 billion).
In April 2022, the government shared the figures on what the scheme had delivered.
50.78 crore person-days employment were provided with a total expenditure of Rs. 39,293 crores during the Abhiyaan (Source: Rural NIC)
Not just this the Indian government ran the largest food security program ever in human history known as Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) or the Prime Minister's Food Security Scheme for the Poor.
800 million people have been provided free food for over 2 years now!
The Indian state was working in its own orbit.
Lockdown extension and the Global Campaign
On April 14th, 2020, after the 21-day lockdown, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out and extended the lockdown further on April 14th.
On May 30th, the Home Ministry said in a guideline that some businesses which were not in COVID hot zones could be opened.
Malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship can open on June 8 except in areas with the most number of coronavirus cases, the government said on Saturday, extending the nationwide lockdown till June 30 with a phased plan to unlock India. (Source: NDTV)
On June 17, 2020 PM Modi clarified that the economy will be "unlocked" in phases to kick start the economic activity.
Mr. Narendra Modi said that there would not be any other lockdown in the country again. “The four phases of lockdown are over and at present, unlock 1.0 is on. All of us must now discuss how unlock 2.0 should be implemented,” the PM said. Mr. Rao also explained about the steps taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the State. “At present, COVID is under control and the death rate is also less. We are confident that with the united efforts of the Centre and State, the war against coronavirus will be won,” he said. (Source: TheHindu)
The two major spread vectors in May 2020 were:
- Tablighi Jamaat
- Migrant Workers movement
The numbers in India started shooting up post-June 2020.
The main peak was yet to come.
Schadenfreude - Global glee at India's situation
For months, the global media was writing about India's low COVID cases with utter disbelief.
- Why does India have so few Covid-19 cases and deaths? / Quartz
- India’s coronavirus lockdown and its looming crisis, explained / Vox
- India coronavirus: The 'mystery' of low Covid-19 death rates / BBC
After wondering for months as to why India was not impacted at the same rate and magnitude as other countries, the Western media erupted with voyeuristic and sadistic ecstasy! Schadenfreude was the key element of the press coverage.
What was in all probability orchestrated by a few actors - political, religious, activists, and press - the migrant issues and their travel back to their homes was blown up across the globe.
And, to achieve their spin on the story, these media houses were willing to twist the quotes, statements, and entire interviews. Who can forget the spat between Sanjeev Sanyal and New York Times? Unbeknownst to the NYT journalist, Sanyal had recorded their conversation so he could play it back to nail their shenanigans.
Here is the full interview.
In October 2020, India had one of the lowest Case Fatality Rates (CFR) of 1.49%. (Source: PIB)
By late 2020 and February 2021, the news was that India had successfully handled its COVID situation and the cases were "plummeting".
- The Mystery Of India's Plummeting COVID-19 Cases / NPR (Feb 1, 2021)
- Coronavirus: Is the epidemic finally coming to an end in India? / BBC (February 15, 2021)
- Why India's coronavirus cases are plummeting / Washington Post (February 4th, 2021)
- Why hasn’t India had a second wave of the coronavirus? / New Scientist (February 19th, 2021)
And, the global media was watching in horror as India defied the global patterns and predictions.
How the US government throttled India's Vaccine
After a long wait, on January 16th, 2021 the vaccination drive in India started in the right earnest.
The entire state and private machinery were mobilized to ensure the transport of the vaccines.
The goal was to target over 20% of its 1.3 billion people in the first phase. This phase would vaccinate the health care and other frontline workers.
The Indian government also developed an innovative online portal - Co-WIN Vaccine Delivery Management System. This was used to provide real-time information on “vaccine stocks, their storage temperature, and individualized tracking of beneficiaries". (Source: CNBC)
Two vaccines - Covishield and Covaxin - got emergency approvals (restricted use) before the vaccines were sent out.
But the road thereafter was not that easy.
Inexplicable fire at Serum Plant
On January 21, 2021, there was a huge fire that resulted in losses of INR 1000 crores killing 5 workers.
Cause of fire? Not known.
Global Campaign against Indian Vaccines
A concerted global campaign started against the Indian vaccines and the emergency use authorization.
Of course, what these journals never told their readers was - that, unlike the mRNA vaccines that Pfizer and Moderna were creating, Covaxin used the tried and tested technology of "Inactivated Virus".
To create Covaxin, Bharat Biotech used a sample of the coronavirus isolated by India’s National Institute of Virology. Once the researchers produced large stocks of the coronaviruses, they doused them with a chemical called beta-propiolactone. The compound disabled the coronaviruses by bonding to their genes. The inactivated coronaviruses could no longer replicate. But their proteins, including spike, remained intact. The researchers then drew off the inactivated viruses and mixed them with a tiny amount of an aluminum-based compound called an adjuvant. Adjuvants stimulate the immune system to boost its response to a vaccine. Inactivated viruses have been used for over a century. Jonas Salk used them to create his polio vaccine in the 1950s, and they’re the bases for vaccines against other diseases including rabies and hepatitis A. (Source: New York Times)
So, while Pfizer and Moderna had to prove the efficacy of the new technology to create the vaccine apart from the effectiveness of the vaccine itself, Bharat Biotech had to show the effectiveness of the vaccine, and not prove the underlying technology.
And, this difference between the technologies also created another major difference. While Covishield and Covaxin could be stored at room temperature, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines - because mRNA protein is unstable - needed -70 celsius storage temperatures. In that sense, only Covishield and Covaxin were suitable for India.
Check this excellent video for more details on how these two sets of vaccines are different.
Interestingly, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shared his thoughts on the efficacy of Covaxin.
Dinging the Indian vaccines was not enough. The US started throttling the Indian vaccine production.
United States hits at Indian Vaccine Manufacturing
Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer - Serum Institute - has even personally tweeted to push the President of the United States - Joe Biden - to rise higher than petty politics.
But the guy feels slighted that a “third-world” country is supplying free vaccines to millions in needy countries without a quid-pro-quo, taking a leadership position in this global crisis, while the US has not given any! So, what does the US government do? Shut down the hand that saves the world!
On April 20th, US White House spokesperson Jen Psaki refused to give any indication of lifting the ban on vaccine raw materials.
US president Joe Biden's spokesperson Jen Psaki has refused to say if the US will allow the export of Covid-19 vaccine raw materials to India, a shortage that could impact global supply or set a timeline for dealing with the requests for relaxing the vaccine patent rights. At her briefing in Washington on Monday, she sidestepped a question about reports that at a virtual meeting Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar the US had indicated that it was considering the request for lifting the ban of the raw material. She instead spoke about the reaction of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to the request from India and South Africa for waiving the intellectual property rights for the vaccine, sounding optimistic. (Source: Times of India)
On April 22nd, The Economist ran a piece titled "American export controls threaten to hinder global vaccine production" which shared how the US controls were threatening vaccine production.
But the American administration led by President Joe Biden was just plain tone deaf!
Defending U.S.’ restrictions on the export of key raw materials for the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccine that threatens to slow India’s vaccination drive, a senior State Department official has said the Biden administration’s first obligation is to take care of the requirements of the American people. When asked when the Biden administration would decide on India’s request to lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “...the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.” “That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons. Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone,” he said on Thursday. It is not only in the U.S. interest to see Americans vaccinated; but it is in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated, he said. (Source: The Hindu / April 23rd 2021)
This one quote will go down in geopolitical history during the COVID times as the most ignominious.
Rivaling Marie Antoinette's “Let them eat cake.”
Only in the case of Joe Biden's administration, the US spokesman actually said such an outrageously disgusting thing!
By now, it was fairly obvious to a discerning eye that the Western powers were feeling jittery with respect to the Indian vaccines and the prowess of Indian manufacturers to become the world's supplier in this area.
In an incredible moment of baring the coloniality, German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed a supremacist attitude inadvertently when she said that "Europe allowed India to become "such a large pharmaceutical producer".
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected Bharat Biotech’s proposal for an emergency use authorization (EUA) of COVAXIN. This stopped the release of Covaxin in the US.
But the folks in the US were clamoring for the Indian vaccine so they could have an option that was different from the ones provided by Pfizer and Moderna. This campaign #IChooseCovaxin got a boost from the former Tennis great Jimmy Connors.
This group had done their homework and wanted to get a better alternative than what the US government had forced them to get.
World Health Organization approved India's Covaxin for emergency use in November 2021 (Source: BBC)
Opposition creates Vaccine Hesitancy and Plays Games
Opposition politicians openly called it the "BJP vaccine" and pushed hard for Vaccine Hesitancy.
On the other hand, in states like Rajasthan (Congress ruled) and West Bengal (TMC ruled) vaccines were being wasted.
The press found vaccine vials in the garbage.
Amid complaints by several states regarding shortage of Covid vaccines, shocking wastage of doses has come to light in Rajasthan. An India TV investigation found that vaccine vials were dumped in garbage bins in at two health centres in Pali district. When India TV team visited a vaccination centre in Kotkirana area of Pali district, it found over 100 vials of Covid vaccine thrown in a waste bag. Similarly, in Raipur as many as 50 vials were dumped as waste. Astonishingly, a large number of these vials were half-filled. (Source: India TV)
In Bengal, the government criminally wasted vaccine supplies.
Indians paid heavily for this partisanship in vaccine politics.
Disaster finally Strikes India - Second Wave
The Second Wave spike really started sometime in February end.
The deaths started increasing rapidly somewhere in the mid-March timeframe, which makes sense as they lagged the new cases by a week or 10 days.
Two events were called out to be the cause.
State Elections and Kumbh Mela.
Let us evaluate.
State Elections - different timelines
The State elections were in
- West Bengal: March 27 through May 2
- Assam: March 27 through April 6
- Tamil Nadu: April 6
- Puducherry: April 6
- Kerala: April 6
However, the top five states for COVID cases were Maharashtra (5,66,278), Chhattisgarh (98,856), Uttar Pradesh (81,576), Karnataka (76,004), and Kerala (47,914) (Source)
And none of these states had election rallies back in February or early March.
If the real damage was done in states that did not go to the polls, then pray how were the State Elections really responsible for the Second Wave?
Kumbh - different locations and timeline
Kumbh Mela is a huge gathering of people. And, in this case, it brought the crowds over to the Haridwar area and it did have the potential to spread COVID virus as well.
The Mela happened from April 1 to April 30, 2021. (Source)
Although the inflection point was in the first week of April, but the location of the Kumbh and major flare-ups were miles apart.
Haridwar or the surrounding Saharanpur district were not amongst the top areas of Coronavirus spread in Uttar Pradesh at all.
The top five areas for COVID cases growth - Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Meerut, Kanpur, and Gorakhpur - were far off from Haridwar where the Kumbh was being held.
Yes, these two events were really bad decisions and should have been avoided. However, they were really not the main causes of the Second Wave.
Then what was?
In December 2020, a new strain was detected in the UK which was extremely virulent.
Economic Times reported on April 24, 2021, that the UK strain was responsible for doubling the cases in less than a month.
The Indian figures were giving hints.
In December 2020, suddenly the "Farmers Protests" were flush with new entrants - the Punjabi NRIs from UK.
By April, the Doaba region of Punjab had emerged as the main hotspot.
By April 2020, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was stating the obvious.
Once the mischievously orchestrated Farmers Protests had been used to create the deadly impact needed in India resulting in thousands of deaths, now it was time to cash all of it.
The Macabre Dance of Death Journalism
And, so started the worst show of journalism in the history of reporting amidst tragedies.
No dignity was sacred. No rule worth following. No sorrow worth sensitivity.
The soul of the global press was on sale.
On May 8th, 2021, BMJ, a medical online journal, was also busy predicting a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in India.
Irrespective of what the government figures said, the global press reserved its unabashed cynicism for the Indian scenario (for example, check Wall Street Journal). With certain Indian journalists facilitating the hit jobs.
Oh yes, and the Western media and its Indian lackeys like Danish Siddiqui were having a field day with some shameless lurid and macabre journalism.
The types that win Pulitzers for them.
And it did.
These photojournalists had no qualms in publishing pictures of corpses, burning pyres, and urns of ashes - all considered to be very private and intimate in the overall Indian tradition.
Also, check CNN's As India's crematoriums overflow with Covid victims, pyres burn through the night for a series of cremation-only pictures that the channel shamelessly showcased!
Brahma Chellaney called it "Lurid Orientalism" in Japan Times.
When reporting on any mass tragedy, a basic rule of journalism is to be sensitive to the victims and those who are grieving. Western media, which double as the international media, usually observe this rule at home but discard it when reporting on disasters in non-Western societies. The coverage of India’s devastating second wave of COVID-19 is a case in point. Western media have been filled with images of dead bodies and other graphic scenes that generally would not be shown following a similar disaster in a Western country. About half of global COVID-19 deaths have occurred in Europe and the United States alone, yet Western media have avoided presenting harrowing images from those settings. Even at the height of the pandemic in the U.S. and Europe, it was unthinkable that television crews would barge into emergency rooms to show how overwhelmed the doctors and nurses were. Yet such scenes have been broadcast internationally from inside Indian hospitals, with little concern for how the intrusion could affect life-or-death decisions. Television journalists have also swarmed Indian families who lost loved ones, turning their private grief into a public spectacle for Western consumption. (Source: The Western news media’s lurid Orientalism/The Japan Times)
The mocking imperialists were at their macabre worst.
The Second Wave Devastation
The Second Wave was devastating.
India's devastating second wave of COVID-19 has overwhelmed its health system and the country. In several cities and states, oxygen supplies have been critical, hospitals have turned patients away, and crematoriums have run out of space. As of May 18, India had reported more than 26·4 million confirmed cases and over 274 000 deaths from COVID-19.The country's surge in cases started in mid-March 2021 and rose rapidly in April. After 10 consecutive days of recording more than 300 000 new infections, on May 1, India reported just over 400 000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. (Source: TheLancet)
Situation was dire!
Oxygen shortages were killing people. No country could have been ready for such a steep increase in requirements.
This entire supply chain was severely disrupted at multiple levels due to the steep and sudden rise in demand across the country—from 3,842 MT per day on 12 April 2021 to 8,400 MT per day by 25 April, and further up to 11,000 MT per day by the beginning of May—before gradually reducing as the number of fresh cases declined. (Source: Orfonline)
Hospitals ran out of oxygen. (Source - Oxygen crisis: The night a Delhi hospital gasped for breath)
All Hands on Deck!
Special Oxygen Express trains were started. These trains were equipped with two engines - Electric Engine and a Diesel Engine. The idea was that in case there was a blackout or power failure, the Diesel engine would keep the train running. The oxygen had to reach!
Remember that these trains had tankers loaded on them which woud eventually leave the train at different destinations to carry the oxygen to the hospitals in those areas directly. So that the minimum time was spent in the process!
The logistics were very complex!
The government responded in several ways: additional tankers were airlifted from abroad, tankers used for liquid argon and nitrogen were converted to carry oxygen, and the railways innovated to introduce special Oxygen Express trains. In addition, hospitals in over 550 cities and districts were geo-mapped and an online system established to track the real time movement of the commodity. Industrial oxygen was diverted from steel plants to hospitals. The government expedited the establishment of pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants—which condense oxygen from the air – and stepped up the procurement and distribution of oxygen concentrators. (Source: World Bank)
The Indian Army is pitching in the whole process as well.
Meanwhile, the government was seeking help from outside as well. 23 mobile oxygen generation plants were airlifted from Germany.
With a major surge in the number of serving and retired military personnel being affected by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Army is converting the Base Hospital in Delhi Cantonment into a 1,000-bed facility.
"It should be activated in a week, even as 23 mobile oxygen generation plants are being airlifted from Germany. These will be deployed in the hospital and provide adequate oxygen to the needy," said Army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand. "A large number of oxygen concentrators are also under procurement," he added. (Source)
Tata Group, one of the largest business groups in the country was also importing 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen.
The Hindu religious bodies - like the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust is funding the construction of two oxygen plants in Ayodhya.
And the Indian media kept doing what it has been doing at such times - publishing fake news.
This was not enough clearly. So, apart from the emergency response - the scientific bodies pitched in.
To cope with the oxygen shortage in the country, the Department of Space is taking up the manufacturing of medical devices such as ventilators, Prana, and VaU with the industries, according to a government statement. This comes in the backdrop of Centre sending SOS to the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for help as reported by Mint earlier. The government asked Isro for help as fatalities mounted in hospitals due to the lack of oxygen supplies. (Source: Live Mint)
In May 2021, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shared the technology for making oxygen concentrators with the industry.
The Indian space agency will soon transfer the technology for making the 'Shwaas', the oxygen concentrator developed by it at a cost of about Rs 60,000 to industries, said a top official of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC). On Friday officials of VSSC had a video meeting of interested companies and explained about 'Shwaas' and its systems. (Source: Economic Times)
In June 2021, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had developed three types of ventilators for which they were ready to transfer technology to the private sector for clinical usage to battle the second wave of COVID-19. (Source: Hindustan Times) These were.
- Low-cost and portable critical care ventilator, 'Prana' ("Programmable Respiratory Assistance for the Needy Aid')
- ICU grade positive pressure mechanical ventilator titled 'VaU' (abbreviation of Ventilation assist Unit)
- Gas-powered ventilator 'Space Ventilator Aided System for Trauma Assistance (SVASTA)'
In two years' time, significant progress has been made in terms of creating oxygen supplies in all the states.
A total of 4,055 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants have been commissioned in the country, including those under PM-CARES, to enhance the capacity of medical oxygen production and supply at the facility level, the government said on Tuesday. As on April 4, as many as 4,02,517 oxygen cylinders and 1,13,858 oxygen concentrators have been allocated to states and Union Territories, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pawar said in Rajya Sabha. (Source: Business Standard)
COVID created one of the greatest tragedy in India in living memory. We all lost someone dear and close because of it.
But the whole experience ended up making India stronger than before. As a nation, India was able to do things that just a few years back would have been unthinkable.
Even when various forces were working together to undermine the lives of Indian citizens to gain geopolitical advantage or get a religious high, the Indian state and citizens fought back.
Meanwhile, Pharma majors gouged on profits
And what about the rest of the world?
Well, the pharma companies made unprecedentedly obscene profits in the midst of one of the worst tragedies in modern times!
By one estimate - they made $65,000 of profit every minute!
New figures from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance reveal that the companies behind two of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines —Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna— are making combined profits of $65,000 every minute. The figures based on the latest company reports are released as CEOs from pharmaceutical industry meet for the annual STAT summit —the equivalent of a ‘Big Pharma Davos’— from 16-18 November. These companies have sold the majority of doses to rich countries, leaving low-income countries out in the cold. Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered less than one percent of their total vaccine supplies to low-income countries, while Moderna has delivered just 0.2 percent. Meanwhile 98 percent of people in low income countries have not been fully vaccinated. (Source)
And the profits from COVID are not likely to end anytime soon.
Pfizer made nearly $37bn (£27bn) in sales from its Covid-19 vaccine last year – making it one of the most lucrative products in history – and has forecast another bumper year in 2022, with a big boost coming from its Covid-19 pill Paxlovid. The US drugmaker’s overall revenues in 2021 doubled to $81.3bn, and it expects to make record revenues of $98bn to $102bn this year. (Source: The Guardian)
Enough money to hire players and forces to disrupt nations and societies. Challenges of the new era!
Video Corner: Truth of Middle Eastern Coloniality
While British coloniality was in our faces, the Middle-Eastern and Islamic coloniality in India has brrn deliberately hidden or diluted. It is important to understand how it operated within the fields of Rule, Architecture, Language etc.
This 15 minutes "Cliff Notes" speech on the Middle Eastern coloniality by Dr. Meenakshi Jain is a gold mine. Please watch it closely. And then rewatch it.
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