Friday, March 27, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 03 Of Lockdown

A Relief Package For The Poor


Countries around the world are coming up with Economic Stimulus and Relief Packages. This is to support the most vulnerable population in the respective countries and ensure economic stability. The Government of India has announced a 1.7 Lakh crore relief package specially targeted at the poor. Here are the details and some of my thoughts to understand what it means - 

1. Free ration - 

Those falling below poverty line (BPL - Income below Rs 15,000 per month) will receive 5Kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of pluses free every month for the next three months. I presume that this will be distributed through public distribution system (Ration shops). It would be required to note that ration shops otherwise sell the grains and pulses for a rate lower than market price, called issue price. Food grains via ration shops are supplied at a highly subsidised rate of Rs 3/kg for rice, Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 1/kg for coarse grains. 

Therefore, apart from buying the regular ration of 7kg per month on subsidised rate, the poor can avail an extra 5kg free of cost. With lot of irregularity in the distribution, one could only hope that the maximum benefit reaches the poor at least during these difficult times. However, it is unclear at this point if those, who do not have a BPL card, can avail this benefit. These include the homeless and migrant workers. 

2. Rs 500 to Women Jan dan account holders - 

The women who have Jan dan account, will receive Rs 500 per month for the next three months. This must cover around 4 crore women account holders. The amount does appear to be meagre on its own but it is important to note that it will add on to the other benefits. 

3. MNREGA wages Increased - 

Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act was introduced in 2005 to ensure employment to the rural population. Its primary objective is to guarantee 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households. The package has ensured an increase in this wage per day from Rs 182 to Rs 202. Though this will cover most of the rural labourers, it is unclear, how the money would reach the people with the lockdown stalling all employment opportunities. 

4. Provident Fund (PF) paid for employees of Organised sector - 

The Government will pay the entire provident fund contribution that amounts to 24% of basic pay--12% from the employee and 12% from the employer. This will be paid by the Government for three months. However, this will only be applicable to those who earn less than Rs 15,000 per month in companies having less than 100 workers as they are at risk of losing their jobs.

While the rescue package ensures some relief to the poor, it is still unclear at the moment, what recovery packages would be rolled out to support big businesses and most importantly, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that are facing the brunt of this unprecedented situation. We shall only have to wait and see.


On the other hand, on a personal level, I have availed the amazon prime free membership. We watched a couple of Kannada and Malayalam films. We also watched Parasite, a South Korean film that has won the oscars this year. I must tell you that it is one the finest films I have watched till date. The story revolves around two families - One elite and the other lower middle class. The concepts of class struggles and conflicts are subtly woven into this extremely captivating story. A must watch!

The last two days in particular has been extremely creative for me. I have been experimenting a little with a new style that is inspired from an artist on Instagram. I am using brush pens to create these works. The first image is a recreation of his work, the rest, are my own. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 Diaries - Day 01 Of Lockdown

Plates and Ladles

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over the entire world. In February, when China (Where the COVID-19 was first detected) was still fighting to contain the disease, the rest of the world was on high alert but no action was taken on travel apart from thermal screening of incoming international passengers. On the 6th of Feb, after my third semester exams (MA- French), I took a vacation and backpacked in Laos till the 1st of March. Laos, though bordering China, did not have a single case by then. I had a pleasant journey across the country. I shall soon be posting the Laos travel experience on my Travel Page

My classes began on the 2nd of March and within two weeks, with more number of cases being detected, the situation became worse. From the 14th of March, State Government of Karnataka decided to close all schools and universities for two weeks. 

A week went by normally. At that point, to me, it seemed like a much needed break. I stayed back at home and made use of the free time to repot my plants, grow some tomatoes, malabar spinach and pumpkin. A rose plant was added to my balcony garden. 

For the first time, I tried my hands at watercolour painting. Being used to poster colour and acrylic, I was always under the impression that I could not use watercolour effectively. I was used to opaque paints. But this attempt turned out to be reasonably successful. I began to enjoy the flexibility that watercolour provided. 

On the 21st of February, I left home at around 5:30 AM, on my bicycle to cover a 25Km loop of Turahalli forest and Omkara hills. The forest has been closed for public now therefore, I rode to Omkara hills. I was back home by 8:30 AM. 

On the 22nd of March, our Prime Minister (PM) announced a Janata curfew (Public Curfew). It was meant to be a voluntary curfew for a day. However, many states made it unofficially mandatory, with the police chasing people away and sometimes hitting those who chose to go out. Several videos spread like wildfire on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. Some cheered the police for the behaviour, and the others condemned it. Argument on social media, between the supporters of the Government and the opposers, continued as usual. Our PM had another request to make. He wanted all of us to come out of our houses, to the balconies and clap or bang our kitchen utensils as a sign of gratitude towards the front line workers like doctors and nurses. 

Soon after our the PM made this request, fake news began to circulate about the scientific reasons behind this request. Some claimed, and many believed that sound and music, similar to that in a temple during a puja, will eradicate the virus. Apparently, according to them, the virus dislikes loud noise. Others praised our PM for his master mind because this curfew of 14 hours (7AM to 9PM) was planned because the Coronavirus will survive on a surface (Without a host body) for only 12 hours. Which was not true, as in some cases, it could last for days. Regarding the claps and music, I did try telling some of my friends that this was done in Italy a few weeks ago and then in France to cheer the healthcare officials and it had no scientific significance. But, my friends chose to ignore my clarification. But little did our PM know that, unlike in Italy and France, most Indians live in independent houses. Many do not live in apartments or fancy houses with balconies. 

That evening, at 5 PM, we were alerted by loud noise outside our apartment building. My wife and I stepped out to watch a display of sound and music. Our neighbourhood, that had diligently followed the curfew until then, had now chosen to come out on the street. A few stood in the balconies and terraces banging a steel plate with a ladle and others paraded the street with a conch, jagate and thala (Indian musical instruments specially used in temple during prayers). 

Soon, social media was filled with videos of people going crazy about this whole affair. In many parts of the country, people had got down to street in huge numbers and paraded. It shocked everyone with a sane mind. The whole point of this curfew had been to ensure that people get used to social distancing, and here they were, on the streets banging plates, drums, or what ever they could lay their hands on. They were clapping, singing and dancing. Some videos were hilarious. For those who stayed at their balconies or houses, this was highly embarrassing and seemed like nothing but a display of stupidity. Clearly, there was a gap in communication and comprehension. 

My wife feeds the street dogs in our neighbourhood. On the 23rd, she happened to walk a long distance away from home to feed more dogs who have no source of food due to the closing of shops, bakeries and restaurants. One of the stray dogs bit her finger and she was wounded. Considering the wound to be fairly severe, we decided to go to the hospital. KIMS hospital was crowded as always. We were first asked to get some masks before even speaking further. When I rushed to the pharmacy, they had ran out of stock. We managed with our hand kerchiefs. We got a job card done and waited for the checkup. Women at the reception were discussing how two men had approached them asking for COVID-19 tests and she was so angry at him because he wasn't wearing a mask. "He did not even wear a mask, I asked him to leave straight away." One of them said and we all exchanged a look and smiled. Fear does spread faster than the disease. By the way, we learnt later that KIMS does not take COVID-19 patients. After Tetanus and anti-rabies Vaccines were given, we returned back home. 

With my gym closed and no exercise, I had chosen to take up an intermittent fasting regime. That is, I would eat only between 1PM and 9PM and fast for the next 16 hours. So far, it seems manageable. 

Anyways, a day after that one-day janta curfew, things had gone back to normal. But, yesterday evening (24th of March 2020), our PM addressed the nation again and declared a 21-day lockdown starting that same midnight. Panic spread all over the country. There were only four hours to prepare for this long lockdown. Though it was announced that essentials would be available, people who could afford it, decided to stock up food. On the other hand, the migrant workers tried to return back to their villages, but failed. All public and private transport had been stopped. 

Today many stayed at home all day. Most of the shops were closed. But there were still some vehicle movement on the streets. More videos of the police hitting those who were loitering around began to circulate on social media. While one one hand, as police brutality made rounds on social media, on the other hand, efforts by many policemen to politely educate and convince people to stay at home was also circulated, thus balancing our thoughts and preventing any generalisation. 

As of this day, there are 618 confirmed cases and 13 deaths in the country.  

CONTINUED HERE -  COVID-19 Diaries - Day 03 Of Lockdown