The pandemic did not only claim lives, but also pushed many people into a debt trap
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If you get an opportunity to say a few words of farewell to 2021, what would it be? Maybe—no year must ever be like you.
The 21st year of the 21st century has certainly given countless sorrows to the world. Covid-19, which entered our lives last year, forced humanity to go down on its knees this year. So far, more than 276 million people have been infected globally. Of these, 5.4 million lost their lives. In India nearly 500,000 succumbed to covid. India is among the top five victim countries.
The pandemic did not only claim lives, but pushed a large number of people in a debt trap. Between May and August 2021, 238,000 people availed loans of about ₹4,200 crore from banks for the treatment of family members. This figure is about 30% of the health budget of Gujarat, the richest state in India. This is the figure from just four months; imagine how much loans would have been taken till now?
However, the only consolation is that during this time, the Centre and states did not hesitate to fight the pandemic. Two made-in-India vaccines enabled people to survive the disaster. So far, more than 1.4 billion doses have been administered.
No wonder, the economic inequality in the world increased during this time. In India, 57% of the total income went to the top 10%. Moreover, the lower rung of the population got only 13% of the share. As a result, the 270 million people who were brought out of poverty till 2014 have plunged back into poverty. Now, to counter the threat of Omicron, both the society and the government are preparing to deal with it, but no one is sure about the impact. It is still unknown how deadly Omicron is going to prove.
It was not only the virus from China that attacked India, its forces also tried to breach our borders. Last year, 21 soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, were martyred in Galwan. In 2021, blood was not shed again, but unprecedented tensions remain. Will China’s attempts to disrupt status quo be contained next year? The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan is also going to shake the confidence of the people.
In 2021, tension between India and Pakistan may not have taken the shape of a major conflict, but shells and bullets from across the border have so far killed over 35 soldiers. Drones from Pakistan have also become a cause for concern—life-threatening weapons were supplied to terrorists in Kashmir, which claimed more than 40 lives, including of minorities. Our security forces killed about 100 terrorists, including those who targeted innocent civilians. However, the bloodshed continues. The firing at a convoy of policemen in Srinagar on 13 December exposed this bitter truth.
2021 also proved that the idea of a ‘global village’ has become redundant. We will get rid of covid sooner or later, but poor countries will have to fight the battle of self-reliance for long, and the coming years may be of economic nationalism.
The beginning of the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the inauguration of the Vishwanath Dham complex in Varanasi reflect the changing attitude of the establishment in India. Keshav Prasad Maurya, the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has raised the issue of Mathura, in the meantime. Is this a part of the election strategy or an indication of what lies ahead?
On 8 December, we lost India’s first chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat along with 12 of his associates in a helicopter crash. He was trying to make the Indian forces efficient according to the needs of the time. His tragic death is a blow to this ambitious initiative. The death of farmers, who were brutally killed in Lakhimpur Kheri, is yet another tragic incident, but despite this, farmers did not deviate from their path of non-violent protests, and forced the government to accept their demands. This year will also be remembered for the farmers’ struggle.
However, this year was also about the spirit of Indians. India’s remarkable performance at the Tokyo Olympics helped bring a smile on our faces even during torrid times. It was India’s best performance in the past four decades with seven medals, including Neeraj Chopra’s gold, Ravi Dahiya and Mirabai Chanu’s silver, P.V. Sindhu, Bajrang Punia, Lovlina Borgohain’s bronze and one for the hockey team. India won a medal in hockey after 41 years. The election of Indian-origin Kamala Harris as US vice-president gave a new dimension to world politics. Moreover, our young generation is now occupying top positions in Google, Microsoft and Twitter, writing a new script for Indian aspirations.
That’s why 2022 may be called the year of hope. What may change, we will discuss in the next column.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.