Class and Gender Crisis in the wake of COVID-19
In the wake of any pandemic or health crisis, the government rolls out the
decision to shut down schools and public places, advisories are released.
Special care and attention to children and aged people is advised by the doctors
and health experts. Similar circumstances emerged recently due to the outbreak
of COVID-19 or coronavirus. The virus spread through human contact and
therefore, the government of most of the States declare a health emergency and
shut down schools and public places, advised people to stay at home unless
something urgent and important crops us.
As per the reports, it is found that people with already failing health and weak
immune system are the major targets of this virus. Not everyone can afford
masks, tissues and hand sanitizers, especially when the demand has superseded
the supply in the free market scenario. The pandemics and diseases in general
and Coronavirus in specific do not hit everyone equally. You would ask why. You
might wonder how can a virus discriminate. But it does. Let's analyse how.
People belonging to lower class/lower income groups find it difficult to make
their ends meet and afford a two square meal let alone a healthy and nutritious
diet. Their daily struggle to earn enough to afford a meal for their family do
not allow them to self-quarantine and isolate themselves during pandemics or sit
at home during a public health emergency.
Poverty forces them to die either from
the deadly disease in the short run or from hunger in the long run. A person
suffering from poverty is more likely to die than the one suffering from such
viruses. A person struck by poverty and shut downs is not living in this
situation of COVID rather he is dying in it, more by her seized opportunity to
earn a day's meal for her family.
Most of these people belong to blue-collar
job/ unorganized sector wherein these shut downs are not acknowledged and
recognized. Only on the ground of their class, these people are being exposed to
the risk of this deadly virus. The conferences and meetings can be organized
online but the type of work/jobs these people do cannot be done remotely or from
the comfort of their homes.
They do not have the liberty to choose their mode of
transportation, they have to ‘choose' the cheapest that is bus which is crowded.
Not everyone can afford to travel by private cars or cabs. The students, who
have been given the option to study virtually using their laptops and computers,
can everyone afford a laptop to access course material and replace classroom
Such people, usually, live in slums or a locality which is too far from being
hygienic and sanitized. How will a one-room apartment allow them to stay aloof
from the family member experiencing symptoms of the virus?
Or how will their
job, working as garbage person, domestic help, manual scavenger, petty street
hawkers, et Cetra, allow to be not exposed to the risk of contracting the virus.
Even a single day of mandatory shut down of nation will kick their stomachs for
a long time and the non-shutting will expose them severely to this deadly virus.
People belonging to a higher class would more or less stay unaffected with the
shutdown but what about people on the other side of this divide?
Women and trans-persons are at the highest risk of being diagnosed with such
fatal diseases and pandemics. Women and trans-persons are placed on a different
level in the prevailing society setup. Women and men have different status
within the household as well as in the community, different cultural norms,
different nutrition intake and accessibility to health care and support from
family. These factors influence the exposure to the virus and medical care and
treatment thereof. Women, as a gender, are associated with household work, petty
jobs such as domestic help, babysitting, care-giving to elderly, aged or ill
persons, sweepers, et Cetra.
These jobs, again, as in the case of class, do not
recognize or acknowledge shutdowns. While women working in the organized sector/
white-collar jobs would be required to work from home. It is not as simple as it
sounds. Shutting down of schools and offices would mean the children, partner
(husband) would be home too. In a society set up like ours, totally based on
fixed gender roles, not only socially but legally too, which is reflected in a
catena of judgments on gender issues, women are expected to take care of their
domestic/family duties before their professional duties.
Women and trans-persons have a lower status in the community when it comes to
health care, they ignore their health due to different restrains until the death
almost arrives. Lack of proper diet, especially when they belong to a lower
class, which is almost always in the case of trans-persons. In fact, in the case
of trans-persons, many a time, it is reported that hospitals and medical
practitioners deny treatment only on the ground of their sex/sexual orientation.
The accessibility to medical health care, which is the foremost requirement in
case of a pandemic such as COVID-19 is least in the case of the “second” and
“third” gender (if this is what NALSA v. Union of India meant while recognizing
trans-persons as the third gender, the ranking within the gender regime). What
mode of transportation do you think a [Indian] woman with less economic
resources would prefer despite the risk when the free bus ride scheme is in
action? How is a woman suppose to not take care of ‘her' children or in-laws or
partner when they are diagnosed with the virus?
Will society allow her to
isolate herself totally? How is a woman or a trans-person suppose to overcome
financial restrains to support their treatment? How is a woman going to support
her children in the case of mandatory shut down? Who is going to provide her
with the care and support when she is diagnosed with the deadly virus? Who will
run the household? Who will do the work for which she is not even acknowledged
(neither by society nor by GDP)? Who will provide support to that transgender
who was anyway ostracized by the society?
And what does the government should do to support its people? It should suspend
all mortgages and household bills until people can go back to work. THAT is
taking care of your citizens. Imagine being sick (or not sick), locked up in
your home, unable to go to work (or anywhere) and you also had to worry about
how you are going to pay your bills?
These questions, especially in the Indian context, bring us to a standstill and
force us to think. They pose a totally different picture of the community we
live in. Our privileges, though we hardly acknowledge, do keep us away from
situations, they do prevent us from viewing the different landscape of the
issues. The framework discussed is although same in every State, however, the
level of the divide may differ.
Written By: Aastha Khanna (Law Student, Faculty of Law, University of
Law Article in India
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