Looming confrontation

June 29, 2019: U.S. President Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jingping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Osaka, Japan.

The U.S. and China seem to be moving relentlessly towards a serious conflict, and it can be detrimental to India’s national interest in the long run if gets caught in the middle.

At a time when most of the world remains focusses on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, the United States and China are engaged in a quarrel over a host of issues that threatens to get out of control and entangle the international community. The Donald Trump’s administration inability to contain the uncontrolled spread of the pandemic in the U.S. has prompted the targeting of China. With President Trump facing an uphill task in the 2020 presidential election, his strategist seem to have calculated that his only route to victory is blaming China for the pandemic and the economic ills that have happened in the country in the last four years. In a racist rant, in a recent statement, Trump accused the Chinese government “of concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world”, without as usual providing any evidence. The U.S. and China have been embroiled in trade disputes for quite some time.

The introduction of new National security laws by the Chinese government in Hong Kong, after protesters there made the important global financial hub virtually ungovernable, has led to the U.S. and the United Kingdom imposing more sanctions in China. Trump ordered an end to the preferential trade status enjoyed by Hong Kong. The “Hong Kong Autonomy Act”, unanimously passed by the U.S. Congress in early July, has given approval for the sanctioning of senior Hong Kong officials and banks.

Wider spread

Patients discharged after being treated for coronavirus infection at the Covid care centre in Jalandhar on July 3.

Since mid June, the positivity rate has doubled in the state, with COVID-19 cases, the majority of which were concentrated in the cities of Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar, being reported from rural areas.

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, Punjab is not only confronted with a surge in COVID-19 cases or an increase in the positivity rate but also the spread of the cases over a wider area. The majority of the cases were initially reported from the cities of Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar. The disease has now spread to Patiala, Mohali, Hoshiarpur and Ferozepur. Relatively smaller numbers are being reported from Moga, Pathankot, Fazilka, Bhatinda, Mansa and Fatehgarh Sahib. What this indicates is that the rural areas of the state, that is, the agricultural belt, which was hitherto considered relatively safe, is now as much prone to COVID-19 as the urban areas are.

On July 5, Ludhiana once again reported the maximum number of fresh cases. Of the state’s 175 new cases reported on that day, 70 were from Ludhiana, 26 from Patiala and 16 from Mohali. Chandigarh reported five new cases, taking the city’s tally to 492, and one death. It was, however, the cases reported from Fazilka, Sangrur and Mansa that set the alarm bells ringing. Sangrur, infact, became a new hotspot towards the end of June, reporting 81 fresh cases in 24 hours on June 25. This put a question mark on the state’s bid to bring back migrant labourers from their hometown and villages to resume economic activities and presented a clear danger of attempts to open up the economy too soon.

Infrastructure in a shambles

Migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and their families arriving back in Ahmedabad on July 1. Many of those who went back home to Uttar Pradesh at the start of the lockdown have started returning to cities in other states in search of work.

The rising Covid-19 figures in Uttar Pradesh point to the debilitating effect of the state’s poor public health infrastructure on the efforts to deal with the pandemic.

Throughout June all Covid-19 monitoring agencies of the Uttar Pradesh government recorded a steady rise in the number of infections and fatalities. The week comprising the last two days of June and the first five days of July registered an all time high in weekly surge- 5,560 new patients and 125 deaths, accounting for 20 percent of the total caseload in the state and 16 percent of the total number of fatalities respectively. As many as 1,155 cases came up on July 5, the last day of that week. The total number of cases as of July 5, was 27,707, and 785 deaths. On both counts, Uttar Pradesh is fifth among the state’s affected by Covid-19.

These figures along with hundreds of individual case studies on the medical, social and economic impact of the pandemic, makes it starkly clear that the overall situation in the country’s most populous state is worsening by the day. They also underscore the many failures and deficiencies of Yogi Adityanath’s government in handling the crisis and relating social and economic issues.

Warrior’s woes

Accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers conducting a door to door survey on the COVID-19 situation, in New Delhi on July 2.

The Covid crisis has increased the work pressure on National Health Mission Staff, but their is no effort to make their compensation proportionate with their efforts.

In the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged the nation to bang utensils and clap as a mark of appreciation for health workers fighting the pandemic. Perhaps that made National Health Mission employees feel that their work was being recognised at last. When one Chief Minister declared that he would double the salaries of NHM workers in his state, Rihan Raza, all-India president of the NHM employees union, declined the offer politely. The health workers were after all doing their duty, he reasoned. Today, he regrets his decision.

Only a tiny percentage of NHM staff are permanent employees. The mission is run on the principles of incentives and conditionalities, which militates against the goal of good health outcomes and is demotivating for its workforce. A health ministry document links the allocation of NHM funds to state with performance based conditionalities.

The media circus

A television reporter at work on a vandalised Street in Delhi, on February 27.

Fair reportage got lost in the” hate narrative” of “nationalistic” TV channels and the fake news spread on social media.

The role of the media in the clashes between supporters of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and those opposed to it spread over three days in Delhi in the last week of February needs to be examined independently in the incident themselves. On March 6, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry imposed a 48 hour-ban (upto 7:30p.m. on March 8) on transmission and retransmission by two Kerala based television channels, Asianet and Media One for “irresponsible reporting”. (The ban was however lifted in the early hours of March 7.) The channel, according to the government order, showed violence in a “manner which highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community” apart from being critical of the role of the Delhi Police and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The order stated: “Such telecast could incite violence and pose danger to the maintainence of law and order situation, particularly when the situation is already highly volatile and charged up and riots are taking place in the area with reports of killings and bloodbath…” Both channels we’re earlier issued show cause notices on why action should not be taken against them under the Cable Television Networks(Regulation) Act, 1995, and the guidelines of uplinking and downlinking. Dissatisfied with the replies given by the channel, the Ministry concluded that they had violated the rules prescribed under the programme code of the 1995 Act and the telecasting rules under it. We were informed that a reporter of one of the channels had actually helped people who were attacked by rioters and taken them toa hospital at great personal risks. There were reports that the rampaging mob attacked journalist as it did not want it’s action to be recorded. One journalist had the harrowing experience of being asked to take off his trouser to confirm his religious identity.

The government had not taken any action to date against the televised agitator remark made by a Union Minister and other Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP) leaders but it was quick to act against the two TV channels, charging them with posing danger to law and order situation. Interestingly, the government had chosen to turn a blind eye to some “hyper nationalistic” channels, whose anchors were contributing significantly to the “hate narrative”. Demonizing members of the minority community has become the new normal for there channels. While the incidence of violence were covered by several ethical reporters on the spot at great risk to their own lives, the ” nationalistic” media consistently created a notion that the CAA protest was obstructionist and politically motivated, dead set on giving India a bad image, and that the riots were the handiwork of the minority community. This ideological bombardment had an effect on the already polarised sections of the majority community member. Videos of agitating speeches and violence were shared indiscriminately on social media. Some of the videos were helpful as they identified the perpetrators and exposed the ill-preparedness of the Delhi Police, there were others aimed at demonizing the minority community. In fact, the ongoing peaceful protest against the CAA, the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens across the country were portrayed as a” Muslim” issue. The print media balanced by and large, with the majority of them underlining the need to find a solution to the issue.

Woes of the wounded

At GTB hospital in East Delhi, which saw a steady stream of victims. Paramedics attend to the wounds of Mohammad Illyas, a violence victim, at Al Hind Hospital in Mustafabad.

When the public health services and the law and order machinery failed to rise to the occasion, community hospitals with limited resources stood as beacons of hope against the unjust system.

On the third morning after the anti-Muslim violence, the main streets of Mustafabad wore a deserted look. Debris from the previous day’s mayhem including charred vehicles and glass shards, lay stewn across the lanes, and homes shops stood gutted. In some areas, it appeared as if it had rained bricks. Residual fear and terror were palpable as rumours showed no signs of abating. Everyone was on tenterhooks.

But Al Hind Hospital in the locality was teeming with activity. Injured people enfolded in bandages it with plaster casts sat on the steps wearing tired expressions. Inside the 15-bed community hospital, a small team of doctors hurried from patient to patient. Mats, carpets and plastic sheets had been spread on the floor to accommodate the injured.

The previous night had seen a rush of patients, with an injured person brought in every three minutes. Initially, the hospital did not keep count on the number of patients. The doctor’s treated the ones who arrived with minor injuries and sent them away. But soon, people with bullet injuries acid burns began to pour in. On one night alone, 23 people with bullet injuries arrived at Al Hind. The hospital removed 13 bullets. Some of the bullet people were referred to the nearest government hospotal-Guru Teg Bahadur hospital located, about 7km away, said Dr. Naushad Ali. He was treating an injured person and instructing his assistant to obtain medical supplies as the hospital was running out of them. The neighbourhood hospital was clearly overburdened but the staff and the local poeple pitched in with money and resources. Many of the hospital employees, especially, the doctors had not slept since the violence started.

Running with the wolves

In North-east Delhi’s Shiv Vihar on February 28, residents arguing with security personnel.

The police collaborated with the rioters in Delhi in most cases and apparently tortured anti-CAA protesters in custody.

Riot after riot in India has shown how political incitement can incite chaos and police conspiracy can sound the death ring for the targeted community. The anti-Muslim riot in Delhi is carried out over three days and nights was no exceptions. But here the similarity ends.

In a departure of past instances of communal violence, where occasionally the police assisted, turned a blind eye to or covered up a crime, here they participated fully with the Hindu mobs running frantically in Muslim localities of North-east Delhi. Several videos and eyewitness accounts, including those of journalist exposed the role of the Delhi police in the acceleration of violence.

They did not even pretend to control the arson and looting. In fact, they pelted stones, fired tear gas shells and threw hand grenades on Muslim homes while running with the Hindu mobs. An activist said that the one instance when their family was searching for a missing son, the police told them they had taken him to a hospital but refused to disclose which one. The family reported later that an eyewitness had told them that when the boy ran to the police for help, he was pushed back to the mob, which dragged him away, he has been missing since then.