Year 2020 had not been the utopian period of justice, peace and prosperity in India. India saw some of the most terrible things happening during 2020. In addition to facing natural calamities many other miseries were brought upon India by its own hands. As per India’s aspirations, 2020 was supposed to play a big role in taking India forward – surpassing other economies by climbing up the ladder of world’s largest economies, surging ahead with its dream for becoming a $ 5 trillion economy, improving the quality of life, removing hunger and poverty. But talking and aspiring big, laying out dream plans and bringing quality change on the ground are two different things. Despite great visions India continued to be haunted by ghosts of the past. Poverty, hunger, politics of hate, religious discrimination, communal disharmony, injustices, only appeared to be getting the better of India and restrained it from progressing. As we enter the new decade we look back at some of the main events that retarded India’s growth and hurt the country’s image as a progressive democracy in 2020.
Citizenship Amendment Law Protests
As India brought a new law amending citizenship laws by introducing, for the first time, religion as a factor in grant of citizenship the country witnessed some of the largest protests in its history when the young and the old protested for days together against the law and rejected it as discriminatory and unconstitutional. As the protests spread across colleges and universities the government was seen curbing protests with an iron hand by lathi charging students inside colleges and libraries that sent a violent, dictatorial image of India across the world. The right-wing groups who sided with the government for bringing pro-Hindu law took matters into their own hands as they barged into university with iron rods, disguising themselves with masks and thrashing anti-CAA student protesters of a prestigious college. Although CCTV images gave several clues against the miscreants it is not known if criminal proceedings have been brought against those attackers. Several students suffered fractured bones and ribs as images of bloody scenes went viral on the internet. Scores of people reportedly died in over a month of protests. The government has remained adamant over the law and its implementation while legal proceedings challenging the constitutionality of the law have not seen any progress.
As Anti-CAA protesters rallied across several towns and cities in India, the capital remained the centre point where protesters ran sit-in protests at Shaheen bagh and prominent places for several days bringing unease among members of the ruling party who declared in the presence of police that if protesters were not removed immediately they would take the matters in their own hands. What followed was some of the worst riots in the country’s capital that saw the loss of more than 50 lives with hundreds of people gravely injured. Several houses were ransacked and mosques were destroyed during riots. The government promised to bring culprits to the book which resulted in the imprisonment of several Muslims with FIRs and police case appearing to push the main narrative as one involving provocation by the Muslims and retaliation by the Hindus. Charge sheets and evidence presented by the Police revealed clear discrepancies, contradictions, glaring errors and partisan approach. Several students, activists and Muslims remain behind bars facing UAPA, NSA and other charges.
If 2020 was expected to be a year of justice then that did not happen. To worsen matters, advocates representing victims of Delhi riots and police aggression have come under police attack with their offices raided and important documentation seized in “the arbitrary, illegal and brazen exercise of brute power by the police”.
Covid-19, “Super Spreader” Blaming and Abrupt Lockdown
Covid-19 cases started emerging in China and other countries as early as January (while it may have emerged even earlier but not revealed) India only started showing some seriousness after Trump left and even until March second week the Health Ministry had not declared it as a health emergency. While the government had said that screening was being undertaken at airports still many cases started appearing in different parts of the country. As the cases grew India realised how its healthcare sector lagged in providing quality treatment or treatment at all to its citizens. In the absence of beds and ventilators reports emerged that many were turned away from hospitals and suffered tragic loss of lives. Covid-19 tested the readiness of India’s healthcare sector to the challenges of a pandemic. But it was not before several lives had been lost that India’s public healthcare stood in the position of accepting this challenge.
Amidst the pandemic too India did not forget to pick up fights over religious differences. Several members of the Muslim tablighi jamaat were blamed for being “super spreaders” of Covid-19 after cases appeared from an annual gathering at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz. “Godi Media” even ran big campaigns accusing Muslims of “corona jihad” and blaming them for spreading the pandemic. What followed was a hateful campaign on internet, attacks on Muslims and their subsequent arrest by several pro-Hindutva governments who lodged them in jails for months together, even until recently, before the slow wheels of justice began ordering their release declaring charges against them as “malicious”.
The Covid-19 did not just reveal the lapses of India’s healthcare but also displayed how shaky India’s social fabric was and how some elements always wanted to spread divide in Indian society.
As Covid-19 cases began to increase the government that had announced a brief voluntary lockdown just a day earlier suddenly called for a total lockdown without enough planning and without paying much heed to the uniqueness of India and the different sections of its people. Every country suffered due to the containment measures required for the pandemic but no other nation saw chaos like India did.
India witnessed the “world’s harshest lockdown”. With all transport links snapped and minimal state support, India witnessed the horrific sight of millions of migrants heading home on foot in an astonishing mass migration. Several died on their way home, on railway tracks, on railway platforms after being left without food and employment.
It was not before a letter came from several activists and lawyers explaining the plight of migrants that the judiciary realised it would not be wrong to ask the government to undertake steps to ensure migrants’ safety.
As several businesses remained shut and millions lost employment due to lockdown, the country’s GDP contracted by more than any major economy in the world. In the April-June quarter, it shrunk by an unprecedented 23.9%. The International Monetary Fund, in October, predicted that the Indian economy would contract by more than 10% in 2020. The setback is so severe that even assuming strong post-Covid growth, India could take decades to get back on the pre-Covid growth path. It would still take double digit growth in India’s GDP to see India reach $5 trillion dream that many economists have called “unimaginably ambitious”.
But it would be wrong to blame the pandemic entirely for this recession as the final three months of 2019 had seen India growing by only 4.7% year-on-year – much of this economic sluggishness has been attributed to the ill-advised policies such as demonetisation and the new Goods and Services Tax.
Hunger, Poverty and Human Development
Owing to this economic carnage, the International Monetary Fund predicted that Indians would slip below Bangladeshis in average income.
To add to this trouble, the Global Hunger Index ranked India 94 out of 107 countries. Indians on average experienced more hunger and malnutrition than Nepalis, Bangladeshi or Pakistanis.
India also dropped two spots in the United Nations Human Development Index, now ranking 131 out of 189.
Politics of hate and religious discrimination
As if social and economic regression were not enough, the image of Indian politics has taken a hit with the introduction of “anti-conversion” laws by pro-Hindutva BJP government that presumes Muslims guilty and accuses them of “love jihad” and puts them behind bars for marrying a Hindu girl while not putting the same onus on a Hindu for marrying a Muslim boy or girl.
As China continued to occupy “nearly 1,000 square kilometres of the Indian Union Territory of Ladakh” no resolution appears in sight and experts have pointed to “the weak position” India was in at the moment.
The year that started with protests also ended with protests. Farmers’ protests that started in December are even continuing into this year as farmers protest against centre’s “anti-farmer” laws that seek to provide a much bigger role to large corporations in agriculture.
Year in Review
2020 had been a terrible year for India. While the people have protested to get their voices heard, the ruling government has only shown interest in fulfilling a set agenda. India’s social fabric has only deteriorated this year. The Indian economy has witnessed a downward spiral but the ruling government has done little to reverse this trend. Not only has the government not provided an economic stimulus, ignoring economists, Union government expenditure has actually fallen. What’s troubling is the fact that the government does not realise that acknowledging the problem is a first step towards resolution.