Self-Employed Women in IndiaIn early April 2021, India experienced a surge of COVID-19 cases that has left devastating impacts on the economy. According to ReliefWeb, on May 19, 2021, “India set a global record of 4,529 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours.” The economic consequences of COVID-19 disproportionately impact vulnerable populations such as self-employed women in India. On June 10, 2021, in a desperate call for help, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) expressed to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security the financial hardship that its members are facing.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Informal Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has been harmful to the entire Indian economy, but female informal workers are bearing the brunt of it. These workers rely on public transportation to commute to work, such as buses and trains, but these modes of transport were shut down during the pandemic. Additionally, many self-employed workers are street vendors, a form of work that has also been barred. The May 2021 Cyclone Tauktae in Gujarat, India, exacerbated all these issues. About 8,000 female workers “in the salt farming industry lost the opportunity to sell 600-700 tons of harvested salt because it was swept away when Cyclone Tauktae struck.”

Due to these compounded issues, already impoverished women are unable to work, a consequence that comes with serious financial repercussions. SEWA surveyed many members who must now cut back on their food consumption and medicinal needs because they simply cannot afford it. These are issues that members of SEWA face along with most other self-employed workers across India.

However, the situation is particularly difficult for female workers due to a long-standing culture of gender bias in India. Women are far more likely to have lower-paying and less secure jobs than men. When India first started recovering from the pandemic in late 2020, the return to employment of males took first priority. Thus, self-employed women in India experience a disproportionate rate of pandemic-induced poverty in comparison to their male counterparts.

SEWA Takes Action

According to SEWA leaders, India is grappling with widespread misinformation and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, especially in the rural regions of India. Currently, the organization is taking four main steps to combat COVID-19 in India:

  1. Encouraging people with symptoms to test for COVID-19.
  2. Urging community members to wear masks and educating people on other public health guidelines.
  3. Advocating for COVID-19 vaccination by building community trust.
  4. Prioritizing emergency support to women whose livelihoods took a hit due to “COVID-19 restrictions and the destruction of Cyclone Tauktae.”

In late June and early July 2021, SEWA distributed 1.2 million masks in urban regions and 1.5 million masks in rural regions of India. SEWA aims to provide “health kits, food packets, medicine and financial relief to workers who have lost all sources of income as a result of lockdowns or natural disaster.” Further, SEWA is transforming its offices into temporary “COVID-19 patient care centers” to ease the strain on India’s healthcare system.

One major success for women in India overall is the election of Mamata Banerjee as the chief minister of the West Bengal state government. Banerjee’s commitments “include 250 welfare programs,” many of which will support women and mothers specifically. For instance, Banerjee will mobilize “conditional cash transfers to mothers for their daughters’ education.”

A Call for Action

In order to provide ongoing assistance to self-employed women in India, SEWA requires national and international support. SEWA appeals for support in the form of donations of masks, sanitizers, personal protective equipment and medical supplies as well as monetary donations.

SEWA also welcomes support for the alternative markets that have risen in popularity during the pandemic, such as making face masks, producing sanitizer and selling pre-packaged meals for deliveries. The World Economic Forum puts forth further suggestions, such as providing digital tools and training to help informal workers succeed in changing times. For example, “connecting farmers with consumers of their vegetables in local cities via WhatsApp.”

With support from organizations and the public, during unprecedented times like these, self-employed women in India will be able to rise out of poverty with the ability to thrive and not simply just survive.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

covid-19s-impact-on-poverty-in-indiaAreas like North America are seeing growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are still places in the world suffering from what came with living through the pandemic, especially the rise in poverty and economic struggles. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India is especially concerning. In India, estimates determined that about 150 million to 199 million people have fallen into poverty in 2021 alone. That makes up about half of the country’s overall population.

Within just a year of fighting COVID-19 in India, the virus has infected more than 30 million people and killed about 400,000. In that time, only 4% of the population have received both vaccinations. People are continuing to struggle to get things like medicine and food, and the crisis does not stop there.

COVID-19’s Impact on Poverty in India

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread economic failure, loss of jobs and homelessness. These effects have made their way to India. One year after the start of the pandemic, there had been a record 7 million jobs lost. Indian households have lost about 7% of their income.

“We’re talking about a decade of lost opportunities and setbacks, unless there are some big reforms and fundamental changes in the way that economic policy is done, you’re not going to be anywhere close to what we saw in the boom years. A lot needs to happen in order to get back to the 7%, 8% growth that we desperately need,” said Brown University Fellow Arvind Subramanian in an interview with Bloomberg.

Unemployment has historically peaked in India thanks to the pandemic, and GDP could continue dropping. Even before the pandemic, India was having trouble with its economy. The Indian government was taking steps to bring the country’s economy up significantly by the year 2025. COVID-19 in India has caused many setbacks to this plan.

New Efforts in Asia

A new initiative called The China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre emerged to combat and control the spread of poverty that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. Operated by China, it will also increase the livelihood and economy of the countries involved. This initiative has included several countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The initiative did not include India in the new initiative, but China has asked it to join. 

“I think South Asian countries can tremendously benefit from this Initiative. Regarding India, I’m not aware of the detailed arrangements but I think India should join this group and benefit from China’s learnings. If India wishes in my mind the group should be flexible and accommodate to involve India in the initiative,” said former Nepal ambassador to China Leela Mani Paudyal in an interview with WION.

Efforts From India

While not part of the South Asian Initiative, the Indian government has taken steps to ensure growth in the country’s economy. Projections have projected economic growth at 22.1%, and roughly 377 million people have received vaccinations. With these changes, the government hopes to see significant changes in the state of COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19's impact on IndiaIn January 2020, India reported its first COVID-19 case, a student attending the University of Wuhan in China. As the virus spread, Prime Minister Modi ordered a massive lockdown to prevent any further spread. “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country and your family will go back 21 years,” said Modi in an address to the nation. The lockdown worked in reducing COVID-19’s impact on India. Over time, the country managed to successfully contain the virus while the rest of the world struggled. However, difficulties were on the horizon with an impending second wave. Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccinations bring hope to the nation of India.

A Deadly Second Wave

In April 2021, the manageability of COVID-19 cases in India took a turn for the worse. India was hit by a second wave of the virus, far more severe than the first. Religious ceremonies and political rallies exacerbated the spread of the virus, creating the perfect breeding ground for its resurgence. In May 2021, India reported COVID-19 deaths surpassing 4,000 per day. But, official tallies are most likely inaccurate due to systematic undercounting. Excess deaths, seen by pundits as a more reliable proxy for COVID-19’s impact on India, were much higher, at more than 12,000 per day during the same period. This number of excess deaths is significant compared to around 5,000 daily excess deaths in the United States at the height of the pandemic.

Major Economic Trouble

India has the sixth-largest economy in the world. The nation has long been in a position to greatly drive global poverty reduction. Thus, heavy pandemic-related casualties in the country have had the potential to magnify the national economic crisis. In 2020, sustained lockdowns and supply chain disruptions caused a sharp GDP contraction, more severe than any declines noted in the United States. Once the second wave hit in April 2021, millions of people were pushed below the poverty line almost overnight. In total, the poverty rate in India increased more than twofold.

Vaccines Bring Hope

Like other nations, India has entered a new phase of recovery, one that promises to be more durable and long-lasting than any phases in 2020. The keys to this nationwide recovery are COVID-19 vaccines and their widespread distribution. From social media to politics, Indian nationals call on the rest of the world for help, with many individuals and organizations responding. In June 2021, the White House pledged to send stockpiled doses to India.

Meanwhile, on the ground, NGOs have taken the lead. A local Delhi organization called the Centre for Holistic Development is helping to enroll eligible citizens for official COVID-19 vaccinations from the government. These efforts include homeless people living in government-managed shelters, a frequently marginalized and excluded population.

These cumulative efforts have added up. Although less than 5% of India’s massive population is fully vaccinated as of July 8, 2021, compared to 47% in the United States and 16% in China, about 22% of Indians have received at least one dose as of July 12, 2021. There is hope that this rate will increase, further slowing the spread of infection.

Going forward, mobilization from the Indian government, in combination with NGOs and international aid, has the potential to create positive conditions on the ground. The acceleration of vaccine drives will inoculate the population faster and more expansively. If all goes to plan, cases of COVID-19 in India will become manageable again and the economy will be able to fully recover as economic activity normalizes.

Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr

bodies in the GangesThe Ganges River is filled with dead bodies and lined with shallow riverside graves that dogs often dig up. According to estimates, people dug 4,000 graves along just one mile of the Ganges riverbank in Uttar Pradesh between mid-April and mid-May 2021. Families of the dead float their lost loved ones’ bodies in the Ganges or bury them on the riverbank because they cannot afford cremation, especially in the impoverished rural states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Increased Cremation Costs

Cremation for non-COVID-19 deaths in India generally costs around 5,000 rupees, but crematoriums have raised prices for those who have died of COVID-19 to around 22,000 to 30,000 rupees. Because of the high cost of cremation, many people living in poverty are submerging their lost loved ones in the river or resort to burying bodies on the shore.

Traditionally, Hindus in India float certain bodies in the Ganges, including those of people who die of infectious diseases. Now, though, with the COVID-19 crisis causing cremation costs to soar, people are disposing even more bodies than usual in the Ganges.

Fears and Economic Costs

Some worry that the bodies in the Ganges could spread COVID-19. Experts say that the dumping of bodies may not lead to increased COVID-19 cases, but could lead to other infections from polluted drinking water. However, the Jal Shakti Ministry, an Indian government ministry focused on water, claims that the bodies have not polluted the river.

Nevertheless, fear of poor water quality and coronavirus spread has led to declining fish sales. One fisherman said, “So far we have lost Rs 50,000… No one is buying fishes because of fear.” There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through the consumption of fish and the only carnivorous fish in the Ganges are illegal to catch. Still, some are refusing to eat fish from the Ganges. The greater danger, though, is that the Ganges provides water for drinking, bathing and irrigation for more than 400 million people.

Governmental Recommendations

In response to the crisis of bodies in the Ganges, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for legislation addressing the dignity and rights of the dead. It has given 11 recommendations:

  1. Protecting the rights of the dead.
  2. Establishing temporary crematoriums for timely cremations.
  3. Mandating that staff learn proper procedures for the handling of dead bodies and safety equipment.
  4. Allowing last rites that do not involve touching dead bodies.
  5. Allowing local authorities to perform the appropriate last rites in the absence of family.
  6. Encouraging the use of electric crematoriums rather than funeral pyres to avoid smoke-related health hazards.
  7. Prohibiting piling of dead bodies.
  8. Prohibiting mass burial or cremation.
  9. Providing criteria for identifying bodies and protecting information about the dead.
  10. Regulating the cost of transit of the dead.
  11. Ensuring that those working with the dead receive proper pay and are a priority for vaccination.

Solutions

India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is monitoring the Ganges and its tributaries closely, liaising with state and local health departments as well as pollution agencies. After the Jal Shakti Ministry asked that governments ensure the proper disposal of bodies, the Bihar government is taking action. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has also asked authorities to properly dispose of unidentified bodies and to detail the actions taken in submitted reports. The Indian government has also installed a net to catch the bodies in the Ganges.

Along with preventing the dumping of bodies in the Ganges, state agencies must prevent citizens from burying bodies in riverbanks, support cremation and provide education on the proper use of river water.

– Hilary Brown
Photo: Flickr

Celebrities Fight Against the COVID-19 Crisis in IndiaDuring April 2021, COVID-19 cases and deaths started to rise exponentially in India. There were more than 500,000 cases and 300,000 deaths. Because of the rapid increase of cases, Anuradha Palakurthi, an actress and founder of the Vax India Now organization, decided to host a virtual event to raise money to fight against the COVID-19 crisis in India.

The COVID-19 Crisis in India

In September 2020, India braced itself for the pandemic. Cases peaked at 93,000 per day, less than one-third of the daily tallies India reported in April. However, it is believed that India succeeded in achieving herd immunity due to the young population. The median age in India is 27, and only 6.4% of the population is over the age of 65. Due to this, India achieved peace for a while until the second wave hit.

After the first wave, many citizens in India stopped taking safety precautions. Children returned to school, adults returned to their jobs and large weddings and political campaigns became normal again. Because of this lack of precautions, the second wave greatly affected India. Hospitals were overwhelmed with a lack of supplies, space and staff. Moreover, due to the lack of vaccines that the government ordered, only about 4.3% of India was vaccinated. The second wave brought a new variant.

This new variant is called B.1.617, also known as “the double mutant.” The variant targets everyone, including the younger population. This has caused more traffic in hospitals and a larger gap between the number of patients and staff members. Facing panic in the country, Indian American actor Anuradha Palakurthi decided to bring people together to fight against the COVID-19 crisis in India through the power of music and donations.

Singers Supporting India through Vax India Now

Vax India Now hosted a virtual event on July 7, 2021. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination shortage in India. The live streaming event featured singers from both the U.S. and India. Celebrities like Gloria Estefan, Alan Walker, Josh Groban, Anil Kapoor, Hasan Minhaj and more signed on to attend Vax India Now and made an appearance at the event. The event shed a spotlight on the COVID-19 crisis in India and informed viewers on how they can help save lives.

The Actress Who Started it All

Anuradha Palakurthi, who started a foundation based in New England that supports the promotion of Indian culture, is the organizer of this virtual event. Palakurthi and her husband, Prasanth Palakurthi, proposed doing something truly significant on a worldwide scale to help India. Ultimately, this resulted in the creation of Vax India Now.

From there, the Palakurthis contacted the Giving Back Fund, a national nonprofit organization that encourages and funds nonprofit organizations, corporations and others who want to help the world. Marc Pollick, the founder of the Giving Back Fund, jumped at the opportunity to help fund the event. Vax India Now and the Giving Back Fund are working together to make the event possible and to tell the world about the COVID-19 crisis in India.

The website for Vax India Now offers a place to donate to support the cause. For those interested in alleviating the COVID-19 crisis in India, the websites of organizations like Care India, Project HOPE and UNICEF USA offer multiple ways to get involved in the cause. Hopefully, with the efforts of India’s government, international humanitarian organizations, and Vax India Now, more of India’s population will be vaccinated soon.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr 

5 Organizations Helping India During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis in India has increased tremendously over the past few months, with few signs of decline. With more than 21 million people infected, hospitals are being overrun and are forced to turn the infected away. In addition, mass supplies of oxygen are running short. However, some organizations are helping people through to the other end of this crisis. Here are five organizations helping India during COVID-19. These organizations provide food, oxygen, medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPE) to those in need.

5 Organizations Helping India During COVID-19

  1. OxygenForIndia: A major shortage in oxygen causes doctors to be unable to treat and save patients affected by the virus. Healthcare facilities usually use 15% of India’s oxygen supply, with the rest being used industrially. Due to the second wave of the virus, health care facilities are now using 90% of the oxygen supply and it is quickly running out. Because of this low supply, many COVID-19 patients cannot be admitted to hospitals as there is no treatment available to them. OxygenForIndia is delivering lifesaving oxygen to those who need it. The organization focuses on people and communities that are less likely to be admitted into a hospital. It has an online-triage system that helps identify patients in low-income communities and hospitals that have the greatest clinical and economic need. The organization delivers oxygen cylinders and concentrators at zero cost.
  2. Hemkunt Foundation: The Hemkunt Foundation, based outside of New Delhi, is helping critical patients by distributing oxygen cylinders through its network of volunteers. Many hospitals are no longer able to accept patients. However, those infected by the virus still need treatment and, in most cases, oxygen. Many also live in rural areas, far away from any treatment options. The Hemkunt Foundation has set up two separate drives to accommodate patients in their time of need. It provides oxygen cylinders via drive-through and home delivery. The organization currently relies on crowd-funding and donations.
  3. American Physicians of Indian Origin: To ease hospitals and doctors overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 patients, doctors worldwide have offered their services. American Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) has partnered with E-Global Doctors, to allow doctors overseas to utilize telehealth sessions to host COVID-19 consultations, free of cost. Low-income households, who would otherwise be unable to seek medical advice, are now able to access various specialists and help through telehealth consults. Additionally, overwhelmed hospitals now have some space to breathe.
  4. Recipe of Hope: When one person is infected with the virus, family members and households are also exposed. This leaves them without caretakers or family members to care for the unwell. Recipe of Hope is a group of nine people from Bangalore that have stepped up amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The group delivers home-cooked meals to COVID-19 patients completely free of cost. Started by Piyush Jain and Miti Desai, Recipe of Hope runs four home kitchens in various parts of the city to deliver daily lunches. The organization has been able to send out more than 500 meals in the first two weeks that it has been up and running. Delivery services like Dunzo help deliver the meals.
  5. The Association for India’s Development: This organization is a Maryland, U.S.-based charity that partners with nonprofits in India. Currently, the charity has its volunteers distributing PPE amongst families living below the poverty line in India’s 29 states. There are many families also facing food scarcity due to India’s continuous lockdown efforts. Furthermore, the pandemic has intensified the vulnerabilities of India’s food systems, including supply chains and the labor involved in them. In response, this organization has also focused on distributing groceries to families. It has worked with 30 partner organizations in 18 states to give groceries to communities left out of government rations.

Moving Forward

These five organizations helping India during COVID-19 are ensuring millions find relief during this ongoing crisis. Without continued support, COVID-19 cases in the country will likely continue to rise. Moving forward, it is imperative that more organizations step up and provide aid to those in need.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr