COVID-19 Lockdown: The Humanitarian Crisis
The case of 12-year old Jamalo, who was walking from Andhra Pradesh to her village in Bastar (Chhattisgarh) collapsing 11 km short of her village was widely reported. However, there are many such heartbreaking cases. News reports tracked during the ongoing lockdown suggest that more than 300 people died because of the lockdown: as a result of hunger, financial distress and exhaustion, due to police atrocities for lockdown violations, inability to get timely medical attention for other ailments.
There have been a staggering number of suicides as well, caused by fear of infection, loneliness, lack of freedom of movement, and alcohol withdrawal during the lockdown. For instance, unable to handle withdrawal, it has been reported that as many as seven people have died after consuming after shave and sanitizer lotions. Similarly, it’s equally disheartening to see a number of migrant labourers stuck in quarantine facilities, away from family, dying by suicide fearing infection, and sometimes even the stigma attached to the disease.
We have been tracking newspapers, online news portals, and social media to compile such deaths due to the lockdown across India, in a handful of languages – primarily English, Hindi, and a few vernaculars (Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali, Odia, and Malayalam). As of 1st May (Friday) 2020, our database 1 reflects the following:
- Starvation and Financial distress (e.g., inability to sell farm produce): 34
- Exhaustion (walking home, queuing for ration or money) : 20
- Denial of timely medical care or attention to vulnerable groups 38
- Suicides (fear of testing positive, loneliness, etc.) 73
- Deaths associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms2 45
- Police atrocities/state violence 11
- Lockdown related crimes (including vigilantism for violating lockdown rules) 11
- Migrants returning home dying in accidents 40
It must be underscored that these deaths are likely an underestimate: only a fraction of deaths are reported by media and we may have missed some deaths reported in local media as well3.
Most of these deaths were entirely avoidable. If the stringent lockdown was the only option available to the Indian Government, the least it could have done is to plan better for the most vulnerable sections of the population. These depict the scale of the humanitarian tragedy associated with the lockdown. With us possibly entering the third phase of the lockdown now – there is an urgent need to acknowledge this loss and take active measures to address this humanitarian crisis.
- The full database of deaths can be found here: https://thejeshgn.com/projects/covid19-india/non-virus-deaths/ ↩
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and its severe form - delirium tremens, are acknowledged as medical conditions that require treatment. ↩
- There are also 37 cases where the specific cause is not clear. An example of such an incident would be where there is a conflict between the account of the state and the family/friends of the deceased about the cause of the death. For instance, initial reports about how a mother in Badohi, UP tried to kill herself and her five children was because of hunger was later changed after the mother admitted to other reasons in front of the police and district administration. ↩