The countrywide lockdown to combat COVID-19, while necessary (in a low-income, low-health-infrastructure country like India), thanks to its sudden declaration with less than four hours’ notice, is catastrophic for the poor who live day to day, who do not have well-stocked refrigerators and homes with separate rooms. There are no reserves saved for a rainy day. This is the precariat population which is one disaster, one illness away from falling deeper into poverty.
As this piece in the Guardian put it, if coronavirus doesn’t kill the poor, hunger will. Not China, not Italy, India has imposed the harshest lockdown with the least public-financed relief. This resulted in migrant workers, women, children and the elderly making a long walk home.
So if we do win the war on COVID-19, manage to flatten or reverse the curve and re-open the country, the economy will take a long time to revive, the informal sector will take even longer. Usurious money lending and consequent debt bondage will thrive. The cash crunch and job losses will result in a serious income squeeze, livelihoods crises amongst the informal daily-wage workers. The agriculture sector will undergo a deeper agrarian crisis, hitting the small and marginal farmers, the agricultural workers, the landless labourers too.