torsdag 9. april 2020

India's leaders have panicked. Now the millions who power the country are sufferin

Miramar beach sprawls desolate outside my home in Panjim, the capital of Goa. April is the domestic tourist season in India’s smallest state, usually characterised by crowds. I’m accustomed to winding through masses of people at sunset. But now there’s almost no one.

Such is life under the world’s strictest lockdown. At 8pm on 24 March, prime minister Narendra Modi announced that India would shut down in four hours. As he spoke, chaos erupted. Panicked mobs besieged the shops. Then, as buses and trains were cancelled, millions of migrant workers took to the roads on foot, streaming towards home in scenes that recall the partition photographs of Margaret Bourke-White.

In Goa, things started badly. We’d already been in curfew for three days. The administration reassured citizens – the most affluent and best-educated in India – that supplies would never be disrupted. But everything shut down nonetheless. The hashtag #GoaStarving spread on social media, as civil society scrambled to stave off disaster. Only then did instructions come from New Delhi to reopen grocery stores.