Over the last 10 days, witnessing the bleak and horrific toll that COVID has taken across India, and all territories that India illegally occupies, far away from home and fully vaccinated, has been an emotional turmoil. Many in my family and friend circles are sick, hospitalized and struggling to find resources and adequate care, with some deaths in the extended circles as well. As more and more people are dying, numbers remain grossly underreported at all levels and we have seen the complete collapse of the state as it has failed to provide resources and denied all responsibilities.
At the same time, the BJP, the current Hindu right-wing nationalist ruling party, has continued to campaign for elections, hosting maskless rallies with hundreds of thousands of people, and sponsored multi-million-people festivals of Hindus in the last two weeks. Further, in the last few days the state has actively sought to suppress local mutual-aid and resource-sharing initiatives and has even resorted to mass blocking on social media, denied news of supply shortages and sought to curb news at all levels. The news we are getting is still from mostly urban centers and of privileged communities who have more access to resources than the vast majority in a deeply casted-country.
It will take a few more weeks to get a sense of current numbers and devastation across the country; meanwhile the peak is being predicted towards the end of May.
The horrors we are watching is not just a country failing to respond to a natural calamity, but rather a human-made disaster at the hands of the Hindu fascists ruling the country — their politics of hate and blatant disregard of all life. With the ultimate goal to turn India into a Hindu-majority/dominant nation without Muslims and Christians, BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, has escalated hate politics since 2019. The state could have been better prepared to avoid the current second wave had it been invested in protecting life rather than its fascist and genocidal agendas.
But the Indian state is not the only culprit here. The U.S., U.K., E.U., Australia and other global north countries have to also share the blame for this humanitarian disaster. Vaccine shortage, rather vaccine apartheid, has curtailed India’s effort to mass immunize. Meanwhile, high-income countries, aka imperialist forces, have purchased over half the vaccines for just one-fifth of the global population. According to the U.N., 87% of the vaccines so far have been administered in the global north, meanwhile 130 global south countries, accounting for about 2.5 billion people, are yet to vaccinate a single person. Moreover, patent protection for vaccines and control of raw materials has limited the supply to global south countries. This is all to protect the profits of big pharmaceutical companies and western imperialist agendas. Pharma profits, accounting in billions now, matter more than the lives of those in the global south.
Thankfully, under political pressure, the U.S. has agreed to share raw materials, resources and vaccines with India. While this is welcome, it does not eliminate the vaccine apartheid and the logics of profits over lives. More has to be done sooner to prevent more deaths in India and across the global south, including waiving of vaccine patents. This is critical as 92 of the world’s poorest countries are depending on India to produce the vaccines.
As I witness people in India die because of the lack of oxygen, I am also witnessing people in the U.S. (and in the U.K. and Israel) who are fully vaccinated and planning their best post-pandemic lives. I am guilty of this as well. It has been extremely unsettling to sit with these global inequities and violence at the hands of fascists, imperialists and corporations who do not care for lives, and continue to be implicated in their politics of hate and profits.
Vaccine apartheid is a profoundly entangled violence shaped through racial, colonial and neoliberal processes. Last year has shown us that a global pandemic needs public and universal health and social solutions, centering the lives of the most marginalized, in the U.S., India and globally.
Nishant Upadhyay is an assistant professor of ethnic studies at CU Boulder.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.