01 January 2021: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Caste, covid and the city: the problem of people
GS 1- Social empowerment
The year of 2020 began with new public spaces which were a protest against citizenship law. Students, people from indigenous communities, women and the Muslim community were involved in this protest. Moreover, in the same year, COVID-19 also witnessed new shifts in social spaces giving way to inequality.
CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) ACT:
- The Citizenship (amendment) act amended the Citizenship Act, 1955.
- New amendment act provides Indian citizenship for refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians, and arrived in India before the end of December 2014.
- But this law does not grant such eligibility to Muslims from those three countries because they are Muslim majority countries.
- This is the first time that religion had been used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.
EFFECT OF PANDEMIC:
- History bears testimony to the fact that unlike most of the world, India is not new to the practice of social distancing in the light of caste system.
- Maintaining social as well as physical distance has been historically entrenched in various forms of isolation by the upper castes in the Hindu social order ever since the Vedic times.
- Based on the religion of Hinduism and its scriptures, social distancing, which today is claimed to be the only curative measure for COVID-19, has always been used as a socially-sanctioned weapon of mass social disruption and collective discrimination against the lower castes and Dalits in the Indian subcontinent.
- It has been a part of India’s unjust history and continues to be a reality even in India’s fight against corona.
- Due to this lockdown in the wake of COVID-19, massive out-migration from cities of migrant workers was held.
- This migration realizes that this majority had been made invisible by the city.
- The pandemic has changed the dynamic of untouchability in Indian society and brought a type of horizontal untouchability between bodies, which goes beyond caste and religion.
- In recent months, India’s government has boosted spending to revive the economy, launched employment schemes for those returning to villages, and allocated more funds to rural jobs programs. But nothing benefitted much.
- The mistake of prescribing, social distancing instead of physical distancing has led to its appropriation by the Brahmanical and Caste fundamentalists.
- Claiming themselves to be the first ones to have coined this phenomenon in ancient times, they have not just used the global recognition and acceptance of social distancing to legitimize and justify its use against the untouchables but have also called for its renewal.
OTHER PROBLEM FACED BY DALITS:
- Besides this pandemic, Dalit communities experiencing many other problems also. There were continued reports of a steady rise in caste atrocities with the community.
- There is an incident of the rape and assault of a Dalit woman from Hathras, Uttar Pradesh which who died in the heart of the capital.
- As well as caste-based sexual violence is common in villages, but there was an attempt by dominant caste media to deny its caste dimension.
PICTURE OF DALIT THROUGH FILMS:
This year two films explore the situation of Dalits. They are:
- 'Siri'- it is of Rajeev Kumar- This movie is about the rural/urban agrarian crisis in Punjab.
- 'The Discreet Charm of the savarnas' - It is of Pa Ranjith and Rajesh Rajamani- This movie is a mirror to the dominant caste Indian society in which Dalits castes as wretched bodies.
PROBLEM AT ACADEMIC LEVEL:
- The year of 2020 confirmed that progressive academic and discursive spaces are not free of the caste system. For example, Jadavpur University teacher's targeting on the mythical “merit question” was just one instance.
- Earlier work reveals that caste gaps at higher levels of education have either remained static or widened over the last three decades. COVID-19 acted a catalyst to exacerbate these educational differences.
- Digital Divide: The proportion of households with access to the Internet is 10% for SC households. Only 49% of SCs have bank savings.
EXAMPLE TO SHOW THEIR SITUATION:
- Sanitation workers walked between daily humiliation and economic needs and their anger resulted to terrible killing and violence. Simultaneously, the nation is also witnessing farmers' protests.
- Protests of Dalit mazdoors, of younger women, of migrant farm workers, whose labor makes the country run is present in the whole country.
- As Caste is integral to our society and body politic, we have to start such initiatives by whom article 14, 15 of the constitution become true in its implementation. Equality in society can come with expanded education, employment and social security.
- From the healthcare schemes to availing direct cash transfers, every other mechanism which seeks to address these social and economic ‘have nots’ ends up becoming yet another unaffordable luxury or inaccessible privilege for them.
2) A shot in the arm
GS 2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- The UK regulator’s approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharma major AstraZeneca is encouraging news for India.
- In the past two months, vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have received regulatory sanction.
ADVANTAGE OF OXFORD VACCINE:
- Oxford-AstraZeneca project seems more suited to Indian conditions.
- The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SAI) has tied up with the British university and the pharma firm to produce the vaccine in the country.
- The institute has approached India’s drug regulator for emergency use approval.
- Significantly also, the latest vaccine to be cleared for mass use doesn’t come with the logistical challenges posed by Pfizer, and to a lesser extent, Modern products.
- The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine recorded 70 percent efficacy in the UK clinical trials.
- This, of course, is much lower than that demonstrated by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products — they have shown more than 90 percent efficacy.
- However, experts caution against using trial results to compare vaccine candidates. Their accessibility is a key factor in the ability of vaccines to check the spread of infectious diseases, curb pandemics.
- In other words, a vaccine that is cheaper and can be distributed more widely is likely to be as — if not more — potent as one that has demonstrated greater efficacy in trials.
- The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine costs a fraction of the price of the Pfizer and Moderna jab, making it particularly relevant for mass use in low and middle-income countries — including India.
- The UK regulator has approved two doses of the Oxford vaccine, spaced 12 weeks apart.
- The SII too signals that this gap is necessary for the vaccine to work at optimal efficiency.
- Medical authorities must, therefore, brace themselves to monitor recipients of the first lot of vaccination.
- They should be prepared to treat the first round of immunization as an extended trial, especially because there is no data on how long the immunity provided by the vaccine will last.
- Evidence on the protection accorded to those above 55 too isn’t conclusive. First-generation vaccines are known to pose such challenges. That’s why scientists have been consistently underlining that these vaccines will require adjustment.
- The SII’s partnership with Oxford AstraZeneca places India in an advantageous position in this respect.
- In the new year, there’s much to look forward to by way of a shield against the virus that cast its shadow over 2020.
UK regulator's approval to Oxford vaccine means India is a step closer to rolling out an inoculation drive against coronavirus.