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Opinion | After the Lockdown, Fear and Chaos in India

The only world that I have known is one in which anxieties are reined in by hope. The privilege of India’s middle class is defined by its investment in India’s growth story, its lust for consumption and its quest for a legacy. But India’s economy has been floundering, and the fall in trade coupled with the lockdown will bring it to its knees. It is unclear how many will still have jobs and businesses by the end of the year.

And it is not just the economy that is struggling. A nationwide lockdown strikes at the very roots of civilization — museums, theaters, cinemas, bookshops, schools, universities, libraries, playgrounds, are all out of bounds. Print-newspaper readership is steeply declining amid fears that papers can be carriers of the disease.

With just one bed for every 2,000 people, Indian hospitals will be unable to accommodate patients by the end of June at the current rate of growth of cases, and as early as the end of April if the infection rate goes up. The huge gulf between the health infrastructure available to India’s poor and to its wealthier classes is closing fast.

As fear escalates, the middle and upper classes trapped in their homes are surrendering to their worst instincts — hoarding food, supplies and medicines without sparing a thought for the millions of poor who stand to starve and die.

People from the northeast of India are being threatened and abused for being racially similar to the Chinese. Houses where people have been quarantined are being marked by authorities, and neighbors are circulating photographs of notices pasted on their doors to encourage ostracizing them.

Perhaps worst of all, providers of essential services, especially doctors, are being thrown out of housing complexes because they are feared to have contracted the infection. In a country that has one doctor for every 10,189 people and is woefully lacking in health infrastructure, disincentivizing doctors from doing their jobs is nothing short of self-destruction.

This comes at a time when courts have closed and liberal democracy is threatened by the excessive power the state takes on during a national emergency. Even liberals are demanding that the police be tough on people breaking curfews as panic about the virus spreads. And police patrols are unleashing indiscriminate violence in the name of enforcing the lockdown.

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