Is India Ready to Reopen?



As India gets ready to come out of lockdown and reopen, the future course of the coronavirus pandemic and its containment will largely be each individual’s responsibility.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Janata Curfew on March 22, 2020 and subsequent lockdowns to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the entire nation has been under home confinement, with citizens allowed to venture out only for essential and urgent needs. Now as the government announces a Lockdown 3.0 for another two weeks, a partial reopening of businesses in green and orange zones is happening too, a state of confusion and fear has set in.


Since the time the lockdowns were announced, all the state governments have followed through and encouraged people to stay indoors. But now slowly a subtle shift is starting to happen where the imposed restrictions are gradually being lifted, opening up the society. From this point ahead the ultimate responsibility falls upon the citizens. Sure, government agencies will keep a careful check on the situation and communicate public health guidelines and decide when to completely open businesses and schools, but in a country of more than a billion, individual decisions, both small and big, taken by each and every citizen about how to go about their life will decide the future course of this global pandemic.


Governments all over the world are faced with the dilemma – whether to lift the lockdown to reopen the economy or remain in lockdown to save lives of the vulnerable? India just crossed the 63,000-coronavirus case mark and epidemiologists say the peak is yet to happen. But on the other hand, a divide is starting to emerge between workers who have the benefit of a steady income and paid leave as opposed to the daily wage workers, deprived of their livelihoods.


Finding the right balance between trying to save lives vs livelihoods is not merely an economic or political issue; it is also a moral issue, consequences of which all of us will have to live with for the coming years. It is a terrible and very difficult choice to make. Life, as we know it, has been disrupted and for the foreseeable future, absolute liberty and freedom, in terms of going about our lives before the pandemic, is not something we can expect to enjoy.


While speaking to my friends and colleagues, in India and abroad, I found people are conflicted and split down the middle about what their actions are going to be once the lockdown is lifted. Some of the parents cannot wait for the schools to start and their children to get back to school. They feel online classes do not give their children a holistic education and interaction with friends, in the environment of a school is necessary. Another issue with parents having a young child is who is going to look after the kids once both parents have to head out to work, as schools are going to be closed for much longer. Some, however, are wary and would rather let their kids stay home. Few I have spoken with just cannot wait for the flights to resume and take off for a vacation, while on the other hand, few of them, in good conscience, want to delay all travel plans till the fall. It is really hard coming to terms with the new normal. Planning for the future seems futile, as the future is uncertain.


The biggest question all of us are faced with now is how do we navigate through this moment? And can we put our trust in the state, our government, our colleagues and neighbors and most of all, ourselves, in making the right decisions as we start to emerge out of our homes? Being holed up in the confines of our homes, do we start perceiving strangers we cross paths with as threats? How can we be sure the shops we visit are disinfecting the doorknobs, handles and surfaces? Are we scared to get on to modes of public transportation with the fear of a co-passenger infecting us? Do we act to benefit ourselves or act for the greater good? Our reactions to these new realities will be crucial to reshaping and defining relationships and society as a whole.


Although the lockdown has been extended by another two weeks till May 17, 2020, in India the partial reopening has started to happen from May 4, 2020, wherein certain businesses and travel modes have been opened up in phases, with social-distancing measures put in place. Crowded gatherings are however still banned. Still there is a lot of uncertainty and fear among people as they’re not sure of what’s about to come. The important thing to remember as we start venturing out is each of our decisions are going to shape the rate of infections, economic policies and government guidelines. Absolute freedom is not something we should be expecting at this point and for the foreseeable future we should be okay with constrained, but acceptable degrees of freedom, for the greater good. How we choose to act, and out of trust or fear, will remodel us not just as a society, but as friends, colleagues, neighbors and families.


Article in The Assam Tribune by Prassenjit Lahiri, Director @ Social Friendly.

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