India is a land representing diversities in terms of religions, communities, language, and cultures. Well, this is what makes India what it is. But hey, other diversities also exist parallelly in term of income, gender, opportunities, freedom, and wealth. These diversities are not overwhelming unlike others and are more commonly known as inequalities. This story is about a heterogenous land- India, where some differences are cherishable and enchanting while others are rebuked and castigated.
These reprimanding inequalities have been further deepened with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the Indian subcontinent. The same has also been highlighted in a new report by Oxfam. The report talks about how badly the COVID-19 disease and the subsequently imposed stringent lockdowns have impacted the social and economical bubble leaving people worse off than ever before. The researchers have found that the pandemic not only deepened existing inequalities but also encouraged extortion of livelihood of the underprivileged/poor/minorities by the aristocrats and diplomats, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Interesting fact, this COVID effect was not limited just to India but stretched from one corner of the world to the other. The report has been given a perfect name which strikes directly at the heart of the problem and what the author is trying to convey –“The Inequality Virus”. As mentioned above, it focused on the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Needless to say, the coronavirus disaster has pushed down several people who were surviving on their bread and butter down the cliff. The enormous and unequal job and salary cuts performed by the corporates have further deepened the income divide in India, which by the way, is one of the biggest growth hindrances of all time.
At a time when the economy witnessed ever rising levels of unemployment, the creamy layer of the society added as much as 35% to their already sky-high piles of wealth. The report states, “The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown and by 90 per cent since 2009 to $422.9 billion ranking India sixth in the world after US, China, Germany, Russia and France.”
After the virus brought forth what seemed like an Armageddon, nearly 170,000 people lost their source of livelihood (jobs) every hour in the month of April 2020. This comes in extreme contrast to the top 100 billionaires of the world who saw their fortune grow by as much as $12.97 trillion.
Interestingly, this marginal increase is enough money to give a cheque of Rs. 94,045 to every one of the 138 million poorest Indians. And to take your astonishment a level higher, the quantum of increase in the wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India, from Mukesh Ambani to Sunil Mittal, during the pandemic period is enough to sustain the NREGS scheme for as many as 10 years. This amount is also ample to keep the health ministry afloat for a decade.
Well, shocking isn’t it? How some are living the time of their life while some are merely struggling to survive the time left in their lives.
One might say COVID isn’t that bad since the income inequality has existed for all that we have known in history. But this inequality is different. How? Because the pandemic has the potential to elevate this economic inequality worldwide at the same time, that is, in almost every country at once. This is one of the first of its kind and
anything this global like this has not happened since records began over a century ago.
The Oxfam report details how the pandemic is behind aggravating all manners of inequalities that have for long existed. If we analyse the data sectorally, India’s worst hit sector was that of the large informal workforce as it made up as much as 75 per cent of the 122 million jobs that were shed off. This came about as the informal sector had relatively fewer opportunities for the new ideal of remote working or work from home.
The pandemic also had devastating effects on the distribution of health and education opportunities and/ or facilities.
The pandemic facilitated the shift of education over online platforms as conducting classes physically in schools became near to impossible amid the lockdowns. This gap birthed another gap which we now call as the digital divide. As we all know, India is still far behind other nations when it comes to digitalization, especially in the rural regions, with just 3 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent of Indian households having access to a computer or a laptop and only 9 per cent household having access to the internet connectivity. In contrast, the online education services and their private providers such as BYJU’s and Unacademy, which are currently valued at $10.8 billion and $1.45 billion respectively, experienced exponential growth.
Bringing the conversation to the healthcare sector, the Oxfam report found that India does not report case data subject to socio-economic or social categories separately, it becomes quite difficult for economists and researchers to gauge the extent of unequal distribution of the disease in terms of facilities and exposure amongst various communities. But, one can ascertain the probable disastrous impact by taking into account that India currently has the world’s second-largest cumulative number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus cases and globally, the poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities have seen to have a higher positivity rate of prevalence of the disease.
The report also hints at the melancholic fact that the spread of disease was expedited among poorer and more vulnerable communities living in crammed areas without proper sanitation facilities and using shared common facilities such as toilets and water points. In this regard, only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent households in India had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation in comparison to 93 per cent of the top 20 per cent households.
When we stretch this comparison to cover the caste adversities, as few as 37.2 per cent of SC households and 25.9 per cent of ST households had non-shared sanitation facilities. In general the population on the other hand, this percentage stood at 65.7 per cent.
Last but not the least, the pandemic also widened gender disparities with the unemployment rate among women rising to 18 per cent from an already sky-high of 15 per cent before the pandemic. The report states, “This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s GDP of about 8 per cent or $218 billion.” Not only this, even the women who were still employed and retained their jobs were subjected to a cut in income. The percentage share of women in this category extended to as many 83%as reported by a survey by the Institute of Social Studies Trust.