Social Impact of COVID-19 First Wave in India: Issues and Challenges

 From: Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India

The novel severe acute respiratory syndrome SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) was reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and it spread throughout the world. The region-wise confirmed cases show that Americas are the most affected followed by Europe, South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Western Pacific. The most affected countries are the United States of America, India, Brazil, Russian Federation and France (World Health Organization, 2020).

The Government of India announced its nationwide lockdown on 25 March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It advocated for major behavioural changes of wearing mask, maintaining physical distance, preventing social gathering, work from home, and frequent hand washing. However, these lockdown restrictions paved the way for several social issues and challenges, namely poverty, economic recession, high density population, health emergency and restriction on the political economy of health. Further, financial crisis, social isolation, fear of infection, stigma and family issues posed challenges to the mental health. Persons with disabilities, transgender, elderly, children, women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, denotified tribes and nomadic tribes were the victims of the lockdown. The historical burden of marginalisation and the deprivation associated with lockdown aggravated their access to the basic needs which resulted in devoid of self-respect and dignity. A significant volume of literature on COVID-19 is related to virological, epidemiological and medical aspects, whereas the social aspects have not been given adequate importance by sociologists/social anthropologists theoretically as well as empirically.

This article examines the major social impact of COVID-19 first wave under the theoretical framework of social inequality and social upheaval. This study unfolds that COVID-19 has not only widened the social inequalities between the rich and the poor but also paved the way for poverty, unemployment, starvation, domestic violence and unorganised workers. 

The COVID-19 forced nearly 400 million people into poverty due to lockdown restrictions, lack of salary, closure of social sectors and loss of revenues to companies. The unemployment rate during the lockdown period is unprecedented compared to the last four decades and it affected the entire states from April to September 2020. 

The central and state governments initiative of economic packages, free ration, cash transfer, cash distribution and moratorium averted a sizable proportion of people from starvation and death. However, the non-universalisation of PDS and the bereft financial package posed challenges for the unorganised sectors and migrant labourers against starvation. The rate of domestic violence reported during the lockdown is unprecedented and such magnitude of complaints has not been reported in the last decade.

Though the unorganised workers lost their jobs, income and lives due to COVID-19, the migrant labourers suffered a heavy blow due to lack of social support, abject poverty and political reasons. The social inequalities were also felt in educational sector due to the digital divide between the urban and rural areas. Moreover, the health sector faced greater challenges to save human lives due to the lack of fund, infrastructure and health care workers.


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