According to recent stats, (1)India is ranked 3rdin the world in terms of the
total cases of Covid-19, with thecurrent all-time high of 40,000 fresh cases
each day (as per second wave of Covid-19). What went wrong with the management?
How did we end up here and can our democracy survive this? Hop on as we together
unravel the Story of Covid-19 and Democracy.
Let’s begin this journey from 8 pm on March 24, 2020. A nationwide Lockdown is
imposed in India. The Prime Minister of India addresses the nation and draws a
parallel between The Mahabharata and the Lakshmana Rekha to advice the citizens
to stay at home for the next 21 days. The so called world’s strictest lockdown
has been imposed. But the fate of the lockdown in the realm of India Democracy
was known way before it was imposed. It was practically impossible to contain a
population of 1.353 Billion without violating the fundamentals of democracy.
The biggest conviction to the failure of Lockdown was the
prevalent Individualism (Precedence of Freedom of Action for Individuals over
State Control) in our country. Although it has had its advantages in the form of
higher economic growth rate by giving rewards to Non-conformism (willfully
disobeying), it was not meant to handle a pandemic for it included the handicap
of Parochial Altruism( Narrow scope of welfare for others). This made taking a
collective and coordinated decision (or even response to a decision) almost
impossible as it focused on Individual gains rather than societal gain. On the
contrary, Lockdown proved to be more successful in authoritarian regimes such as
the People’s Republic of China where collectivism prospered.
The figure below based on the World Value Survey Data( WVS) OxCGRT; Google’s
COVID19 Community Mobility Reports proves that stricter policies to curb
mobility were less effective in major democracies and more effective in
Authoritarian regimes like China.
What followed the lockdown was complete chaos. Factories and workshops were shut
down leaving the laborers unemployed. They faced acute shortages in terms of
money, clothes and shelter. The laborers took on their journey to reach their
native villages, which served as a transmitter for the infection. In utter
helplessness, myriad of migrants gathered near bus and railway stations and some
even preferred to walk to their homes. Flying Rumors about travel facilities
being arranged by the government, without any prior notice fueled their
migration. Not all made it back home, many died due to starvation, depression,
police brutality and road and rail accidents.
The opposition and the ruling majority started with the years old mudslinging (a
very important feature of contemporary Democracy).
Provisions were made by the government but their implementation remained a
problem. The stock of food grains was there to sustain the laborers for at least
a year but their distribution through the One Nation, One Ration Card
system (which was implemented in few cities) remained an area of concern.
Lack of Center and State Coordination was also highlighted through this crisis.
On March 27, a directive was issued by the Home Ministry ordering the states to
contain the migration. It also gave the states the authority to use the National
Disaster Response Fund to provide the basic necessities (such as food and
shelter) to the laborers. Still, Regional Friction remained a problem. While
there were some states that chose to use a region specific approach rather than
a uniform National one, there were others too that followed the Central order to
such an extent that it lead to severe police brutality, violating the Human
Rights of all those affected.
Although Financial Assistance was promised, over 90% of laborers who reached out
in the month of April reported that they have not been provided with any
financial assistance from the government. In Tamil Nadu 97% were not paid
during lockdown and in Punjab, 84% had less than Rs100 remaining.
Social Ostracism (Procedure under Athenian Democracy, where any citizen could be
expelled from Athens, used here to refer to social exclusion) of migrants
remained a problem as they were considered sources of transmission of infection.
No one wanted to be near them. Diminishing Income and Societal
Discrimination took a huge Psychological toll on the migrants and thus deprived
them of their equal status in the society.
This can again be linked to the first point about Individuality and narrow scope
of welfare for the society.
The Wuhan Virus has changed the trajectory of our lives. Everything you can
think of has taken the big leap of faith from Offline to Online. Online teaching
has started via apps such as Zoom, Discord, and et-cetera. Our lives are no
longer governed by us, but by these Big Data
Algorithms. We unknowingly give them this permission when we click on “agree to
the terms” after installing any application.
Concerns have been raised regarding the theft of data through apps like Zoom.
There are 2 Major fronts: Lack of transparency and Distribution of
Information to a third party without user consent.
To quote the General Data Protection Regulation, “consent for collecting
personal data must be freely given, and that if there is an imbalance of power
between the parties, it cannot be a free choice and that any consent obtained is
Following this a school in Sweden was fined 20,000 dollars for using facial
biometrics to track
22 students. One might say that the parents had given the consent but consent,
(in this situation)
Is not a valid legal proof due to the clear imbalance between the data Subject
(Students) and the controller (School authorities).
The same reasoning can be applied in the current online environment. Any
invitation to a teleconference can be stated as an imbalance of power as there
is no realistic option to decline.
Due to these very reasons Companies like Google, Space X and Governments of
Taiwan, United States of America and the Australian Defense force have banned
the usage of such apps (ZOOM).
Even the Government of India has banned 59 mobile apps which are a viable threat
to the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of India.
We have often heard that Human Liberty is the Soul of any democracy. It reflects
the, “Free Will” which is the utmost source of authority. But is this will truly
free? Isn’t it affected by these algorithms that dictate our actions and
It was rightly stated by Yuval Noah Harari in his book, 21 lessons for the
21st Century that,
“When the Biotech Revolution merges with the InfoTech revolution, it will
produce Big Data
Algorithms that can monitor and understand my feelings much better than I ever
can, and then Authority will probably shift from Humans to Computers.”
This is the truth of our lives, we are still living in a Utopian Society if we
consider that we make our own choices. All the choices are fed to us by these
algorithms, and we merely respond to it the way it wants us too.
India Country Profile
This Research Article would be using the data brought forward by the Global
Monitor of Covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights, to summarize India’s
performance with respect to Covid-19.
General Analysis- No Emergency was imposed by the state of India as it has been
reserved by the constitution of India to be used only when the territorial
sovereignty of India is under question due to acts of aggression such as a war.
(Article 352, Constitution of India)
The response can be categorized as a Neutral one, owing to the Social
polarization that already exists in the present status quo. In order to portray
a better understanding and understand the nuanced aspects of Covid 19 and its
impact on the democratic rights, we shall focus more on the rights that were
compromised due to Covid response set by the Government of India and World
Governments in general.
Specific Analysis of Civil Liberties
Freedom of association and Assembly: As stated under Article 11 of the Freedom of Assembly and Association (Human
- Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of
association with others, including the right to form and to join trade for
the protection of his interests.
- No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other
than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society
in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention
of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the
protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
This right was considerably restricted due to the challenges that
were faced due to the pandemic.
This is evident from the following cases:
- All Public Gatherings were banned in Phase 1 of the Lockdown
- Using this very narrative of Spread of the virus, Delhi police dispersed
a multi month sit in protest on the citizenship laws imposed in the state.
- Government of Kerala issued a notification extending the enforcement of Covid
and public gathering protocols till July, 2021. No more than 10 people are
allowed in a public gathering in the state.
- Opposition parties such as the United Democratic front had to halt their
protests against the government policies due to increase in covid cases in
- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued standardized operating
procedures to be followed during the festive seasons with respect to the
social gatherings and containment zones in particular.
- Operating procedures were also issued on preventive measures in the
market which majorly included:
- Self Regulations by the Market associations
- Liability of owners for maintaining physical distancing and crowd
- Penalties for non-adherence to guidelines.
2. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution of
India. It provides that all persons in India, subject to public order,
morality, health, and other provisions:
- Are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, and
- Have the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.
- Hatred against Muslims was on the rise due to the increase in Covid
cases linked with a Muslim Missionary group which held its annual conference
in Delhi. This led to boycott of many Muslim businesses. (14
- According to data shared with TIME by Equality labs, a digital human
rights group, tweets with hashtag #CoronaJihad had appeared nearly 300,000 times and
viewed by numerous entities. Other tweets such as “#CoronaTerrorism” and
“CoronaBombsTablighi” reflect the merger of anxieties over the virus with rising
- As of June, 2020 eight British Muslims have been detained for more than
two months facing criminal charges for violating the coronavirus lockdown.
- For the First time in 91 years, the Durga Pooja( Renowned Indian Festival)
was celebrated virtually this year in Mumbai.In West Bengal steps were taken to
organize the Durga Pooja in correctional homes with necessary health
- Recently, In January 2021 around 1 million Hindu Pilgrims gathered in
Northern India marking the start of the Kumbh Mela. Concerns were raised
regarding the health protocols not being followed leading to friction
between different religious groups targeting the government for giving
preferential treatment to the Hindus.
3. Social Rights and Equality
In a country like India, It is desirable that there is increased intergroup
homogeneity and decreased friction among such groups. Social barriers have
existed well before covid times and the pandemic has only led to its
- Due to increased Islamophobia, there were reports about Muslims not
being allowed to enter into hospitals or any other public spaces
- Domestic violence and mental traumas linked with Covid-19 were on the
rise. The call centers operated by the Social Justice Department received
numerous distress calls.
- Domestic workers and casual laborers suffered the worst due to the
Lockdowns that were imposed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a call for unity
stating that Covid Virus does not discriminate between races, religion and
- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued many notifications and
guides helping the youth to avoid the stigmas and prevent discrimination
associated with the pandemic
Isolationormativity Linked With Pandemic
Through the means of this paper, I would like to promote the concept of a term
called Isolationormativity as suggested by Matteo Winkler, a professor at
HEC Paris. In one of his articles in Forbes, he talks about coining this new
term which encompasses the aspects of normative ethics or moral philosophy along
with a Public health terminology, Isolation.
Normative ethics focusses on classification of things as morally right or wrong
whereas isolation, according to WHO disease Control Priorities Handbook refers
to “a key precaution to reduce pandemic threats in the absence of antivirals,
antibiotics and vaccines.”
Man is by nature a social animal and putting him behind a roof and four walls
can not only have serious mental implications but can also cause the heightening
of the prevalent social issues thereby disturbing the existing status quo. For
instance, asking someone to stay at home during the pandemic may prove to be a
necessary safety precaution, but is it morally the correct thing to do. Well, in
some cases it isn’t.
A simple example to substantiate my cause is that of India and other Asian
countries where exploitation of the LGTBQ+ is on the rise as they are subjected
to extreme torture and exploitation by their toxic family members. During the
first four phases of the COVID-19-related lockdown, Indian women filed
more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last
To put it in the words of Matteo Winkler, Some homes are safe spaces, but not
all home spaces are safe.
Isolation alone cannot be sufficient in handling the pandemic as it heightens
the existing gaps in our society. Example the phrase, Wash your hands focusses
on the immediate necessity of the action (I.e. washing your hands with soap or
hydro alcoholic gel) but doesn’t reflect the marginalization of around 9% of the
world population (around 666 million people) who have no access to such sources
This is one of the most common issues faced in refugee camps in remote areas
like Syria, Lebanon, and Africa where alcohol and other dangerous substitutes
are used as clean water is not readily available. Thereby a more realistic
version of this phrase would be to say Wash your hands… if you have access to
water which, around 29 % of the world population doesn’t.
Hence these stringent emergency measures have become the new normal intensifying
the Social imbalance in our society.
These two examples prove that Morality and isolation need not always go hand in
hand. So the question arises, should the state (Governments in this case)
intervene to decide the ethics that will govern our actions?
The answer to this is not a simple one as it varies depending on the
geopolitical and socio economic setup of various states. Excessive government
involvement in well-established democracies like India, United States of America
may prove to be beneficial as long as basic ideals of the constitution are not
violated. What makes it easy to judge such violations is the long history of hit
and trial that these countries have had with Democracy.
But the same might not
be true in countries like Zimbabwe, which are still at their initial stages of
imbibing these democratic ideals. Excessive involvement might only lead to
inefficient utilization of the scarce resources and further marginalization of
the already deprived sections of the society.
The nations satisfactory performance with respect to rights such as Freedom of
Movement, Personal Integrity and Security, Basic Welfare, Effective Parliament,
judicial Independence, Civil Society Participation, and Local Democracy helped
contain the adverse effects of the Pandemic.
In the words of the Union Health Minister, Mr. Harsh Vardhan, “India’s
pre-emptive, proactive and graded approach ensured a plateaued graph of COVID-19
cases and a significant number of unoccupied beds in the health facilities at
any point in time.
It is often said that the best way to judge any Democracy is to see the result
it produces and the challenges it overcomes. These challenges have existed for a
long time and have only evolved with the incoming wave of Covid-19.
Will our Democracy survive this test of time or will something Novel, Stronger,
and Better emerge from this?
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Gaurav Dhir
Authentication No: MA33880964744-02-521