Response to “The callousness of India’s COVID-19 response”, an article by Ms. Vidya Krishnan published on The Atlantic on March 27, 2020

Let me begin by addressing the image used as the icon of “The callousness of India’s COVID-19 response” article. Here the tricolor Indian flag is disfigured by putting an image of Coronavirus in the center, in place of the sacred Ashok Chakra that represents the 24 hours of Time. Frankly, it is disgusting to disfigure any country’s flag, even worse, one’s own country’s flag just to gain attention.

As an Indian, I am dismayed by the overall negative view of Ms. Vidya Krishnan about how the Indian government is handling or not handling the pandemic situation. My personal experience and observation are clearly different, it’s as if Ms. Vidya Krishnan and I are not living in the same country! Let me share my experience here.

As I had come in close contact with a coronavirus positively tested friend, I, along with my 20 staff members had to visit the Government Medical College (GMC), in Nagpur, a city in the center of India. We were greeted by municipality workers, guards on duty, doctors, nurses and resident doctors, all dressed up professionally and ready to fight on the frontlines of the war with the deadly virus. With sincere dedication, they got us all admitted, took our samples and thereafter we spent over 12 hours in the general ward of GMC. Yes, at first it did feel a little bit too much of a compromise for us ‘elite’ ladies and the first hour was no doubt scary! The sheer scale of the general ward and the ‘Sarkari’ feeling that one gets in such hospitals were indeed quite uninviting. But as the hours passed, we realized that it wasn’t so bad after all! The beds were old, but bedsheets were sterilized and clean. The floor had newly renovated digital tiles that were being disinfected every 2 hours and the whole ward felt actually clean. The nurses were asking us for tea, water, food and were quite cordial. The only thing we didn’t like was that they were following the orders laid out for them very strictly. There was no ‘chalta hai’ (casual) attitude when we requested them to let us go home early or let my sister in the ward and accompany me in my boredom. They were firmly guarding the rules, meticulous about following the protocols. It was truly impressive.

Reports did take longer than normal to reach us, two days to be precise. Because priority was given to the symptomatic patients, outstation patients. I agree that the system is slow, but they really need to be careful about whom to test and whom to send home advising home isolation without testing, but I guess it is still better than choosing whom to put on ventilator and whom should be left to die, as happening in Italy as we speak.

Since the day we tested, till today, all 20 of us get a call every single day without fail, even on a Sunday, to enquire about our health, any symptoms, any family member having any symptoms. For a third world country like India, it was totally unexpected. In spite of repeatedly telling them that I tested negative, I do not have any symptoms, I get a call every day. 

Ms. Vidya mentioned about all the shops being callously closed without warning. Nothing can be farther from the truth; daily needs, medicines, groceries are open pretty much countrywide. For example, in my case a designated person from the household goes to the market daily to fetch the needed items and the grocery bag is disinfected, milk packets are sprayed to reduce the chance of any risk of the infection. Social media is flooded with pictures of shopkeepers who have kept the stores open and allowing 2 people at a time in the store. Even the illiterate people from a third world country are behaving responsibly, Ms. Vidya Krishnan seems to have missed that! There is also a mention in her article of infuriated patients eloping the hospitals, sure there have been a few such cases and such irresponsible behavior is seen in a small minority of impacted people, but then every country has ‘these’ kinds of people who act immaturely in the time of crisis.

Granted the fact is that less number of people are being tested in India, but the Indian Govt and bureaucratic machinery, which has finally swung into action, are fully aware of how much testing India can afford at a given moment and how many quarantine spots are available in the hospitals, and are in the best position to determine whether testing kits should be reserved for only suspected cases or should be used on testing asymptomatic people. There is a very apt saying in Marathi (a local language spoken in Maharashtra state in India) “aanthrun baghun paay pasra’ which means be aware of your resources and spend accordingly. Indian officials seem to understand the wisdom in it. Also, I agree with the emerging problem of migrant workers who have been caught in a fix after the countrywide lockdown needs to be addressed soon. However, only time will tell who managed which country in a better way. Our duty, at this moment of crisis, is to stand together with our respective Governments, civic bodies and health workers and follow orders meticulously. This is not the time to rant.  

Sonal Indraneel Fuke

Psychologist, Founder of Toddler Creed Child development center

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