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After Migrant Workers, Indian Medic Staff Faces Apathy, Discrimination, Thrashings

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As the global coronavirus pandemic worsens in India, its frontline medical workers and essential service providers are bearing the brunt of public paranoia caused by a shortage of medical equipments coupled with fake news and WhatsApp forwards.  

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“Life is full of ironies,” this adage seems to be absolutely true for essential service providers who are waging a two-front battle in India. Leprosy, tuberculosis and HIV-Aids patients had all been similarly stigmatised in the past but this time it is India’s essential service providers who are battling social stigma.

On the one hand, the medics in India are fighting the deadly coronavirus for which they were recently applauded and appreciated, and on the other hand, they are also battling social stigma which has exposed the fault lines in the Indian society.

India’s doctor-patient ratio stands at one doctor for every 1,445 citizens, according to data from the government of India. This ratio is lower than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) prescribed ratio of one doctor for every 1,000 people.

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Recently, doctors at Nalanda Medical College in Bihar treated patients while wearing only an elementary surgical kit. They had meals in a mess shared by 83 doctors, all of whom were apprehensive that may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

But when the doctors requested for being quarantined, they were flatly rejected and asked to keep working. With a pandemic developing — and in an impoverished state with just one government doctor for every 28,000 people — the hospital couldn’t afford to lose them. So they took medicines and kept examining the patients.

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In the remote district of Maharashtra, doctors were seen wearing raincoats and treating suspected COVID-19 patients. Over the weekend, doctors in Sevagram, in central India, were told that their hospital would become a regional center for COVID-19 patients, despite having “hardly any” protective gear, according to a medic staff.

Doctors and hospital staff are particularly prone to catching Covid-19 given the perilous state of India’s medical affairs which has raised concerns about health workers exposed to the virus. In such a situation, evicting doctors out of their homes will further dent the morale of medics and dramatically imperilling India’s fight against the deadly coronavirus.

“Doctors in other countries are fighting the virus but doctors in India are fighting the stigma,” said a senior resident doctor at the same hospital, who only gave his initials M. P. Indian PM Modi called on Indians to stop treating medical workers as pariahs, describing those fighting the virus as “God-like”. “Today they are the people who are saving us from dying, putting their lives in danger.”

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However, the plea of PM Modi seems to have fallen on deaf ears as the reality on the ground is completely different. Sanjibani Panigrahi, a doctor in the western city of Surat, in Gujarat described how she was accosted as she returned home from a long day at a hospital that is treating COVID-19 patients.

She said neighbours blocked her at the entrance to her apartment building and threatened consequences if she continued to work. “These are the same people who have happily interacted with me (in the past). Whenever they’ve faced a problem, I’ve helped them out,” the 36-year-old told AFP. “There is a sense of fear among people. I do understand. But it’s like I suddenly became an untouchable.”

In the neighbouring state of Rajasthan, the situation is not very different, a senior resident doctor at Jodhpur’s Ummaid hospital had just been evicted from her home over fears she might spread the virus. “First, [the landlord] asked me not to use the toilet. Then he said he would disconnect the water supply and electricity connection because he wanted to renovate the house,” Ankita Mathur said.

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“When I informed him that it would be impossible to find another house at such short notice, he clearly said that he wanted me to leave because he feared that I would put everyone at high risk of contracting the coronavirus infection.”

Some health care workers have been called dirty by their former landlords, while in the central state of Telangana, 22-year-old Nihal Mallela, a junior resident doctor at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, said he hides the identifying markers of his profession such as a stethoscope and white coat out of fear people will look at him with suspicion.

Anirban Dutta, a 33-year-old pathologist of West Bengal’s Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital, who was also evicted recently, said that he had told the owner of the house that the infection is mainly transmitted through droplets that come out when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and he (Anirban) was not infected.

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He also added that he and the landlord stayed on separate floors, and neither used common spaces or utensils, so the landlord could not have possibly contracted the infection from him. However, he said that the owner was not convinced.

Even the daily life is getting increasingly challenging for anyone associated with the fight against coronavirus. Arghyadeep Ganguly, a junior doctor at Beleghata Infectious Disease hospital in Kolkata, described how seven taxi drivers refused to pick him up when they realised he was a doctor.

So poor is the understanding and so high is the scare related to coronavirus that one doctor was beaten by police officials when she was on her way to the hospital. The police officials miffed with the women doctor for travelling at the time of lockdown beat her up and then took her to the police station in complete disregard of Indian laws.

So many frontline health care workers across the country have been evicted that the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences’ resident doctors’ association has written to Home Minister Amit Shah urging him to intervene.

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“Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers involved in Covid-19 care are being asked to vacate their rented homes and some have been even forcefully evicted from their temporary residence by landlords and house-owners due to the fear that those healthcare professionals make them susceptible to coronavirus infection,” said a letter from the Resident Doctors’ Association of New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, sent on Tuesday to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan has moved to assure the public that all precautions are being taken by both “doctors and staff” treating coronavirus patients to ensure that they do not become disease carriers, and the authorities have warned of legal action against any landlords evicting tenants on such grounds. But for some doctors, the government’s assurances are a case of too little too late.

However, the doctors or not the only ones facing social stigma, even airline and airport staff, who have been evacuating thousands of Indians stuck overseas are facing the same issue.

Indigo and Air India have condemned threats made against their staff. An Air India flight attendant told AFP her neighbours threatened to evict her from her apartment while she was heading to the United States, saying she would “infect everyone”.

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“I couldn’t sleep that night,” she said, afraid to reveal her name over the fear of further stigmatisation. “I was scared that even if I did go home, would someone break open the door or call people to kick me out?”

Her husband had to ask the police for help. Others have not been as lucky, the flight attendant said, with one colleague – who declined to speak to AFP – forced out of her home and now living with her parents. “With all the fake news and WhatsApp forwards, they don’t know what is going on, so there’s this paranoia that makes them behave like this,” she said.

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India-China Economic Romance Cannot End With A Mere Border Clash – Chinese Experts

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India and China have been at each other’s throat for more than a month now. Aside from the military confrontation in Ladakh, India has also moved to disengage from China economically.

While the move has got the support from the majority of Indians, Cui Hui’ao of the China Global Television Network (CGTN) writes that disengaging from China might not be a choice for India and that economic de-coupling is driven politically by Narendra Modi.

As reported by Eurasian Times consistently during last month, the feud between India and China has been a rollercoaster ride. From military buildup, deadly clashes to de-escalation and eventual withdrawal, the clash of the two Asiatic giants has seen it all.

Cui writes that apart from the military confrontation, India has retaliated in the economic sphere, referring to the decision by the Indian government to ban 59 Chinese application including TikTok, WeChat and ShareIt and the call to boycott Chinese products.

The journalist at CGTN writes that decoupling from China may be easier said than done for India. He says that India is not a manufacturing powerhouse, so in terms of bilateral trade, it actually buys much more from China than the other way around.

Cui analyses trade data to support the fact that New Delhi will find it difficult to reduce its dependence on Chinese imports. Between April 2019 and March 2020, India imported over 65 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of goods from China.

Cui is of the opinion that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Indian economy hard and in fact, the disengagement is driven by politics rather than economics. He finds it difficult to accept that India’s disengagement from China would take place at a time when the Indian economy is projected to contract by 4.5% according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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Speaking to Cui, Cheng Xizhong, a visiting professor from Southwest University of Political Science and Law, says that the decision to de-couple from China economically is because of the domestic pressure on Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi.

‘’Since his second term began yet Indian economy is a mess. He has to find a way to shift the public attention elsewhere,” he said.

The author agrees with the point made by Cheng Xizhong and writes that pressure on the Indian PM Modi comes from multiple fronts, including his own supporters, businesses, and farmers union. But this time, the nationalistic voice is even louder.

Other experts interviewed by Chui agree that New Delhi would benefit more if it partnered with Beijing. Professor Cheng, a former Chinese military diplomat in South Asia, said that since India started its opening-up in the 1990s, its economic growth has been crippled by lack of high-quality infrastructure and it would wiser if India and China work together.

Similar views are shared by Indian economist Biswajit Dhar, who says that India’s decision to start producing domestically has to be strategic and it cannot take the decision to produce everything.”

While India and China disengage at the battlefront in Ladakh, the Indian government is looking for solutions to reduce its dependency on Chinese imports. PM Modi has encouraged all Indians to become self-reliant (Aatmanirbhar) by producing and purchasing indigenous goods and boost the Indian economy.

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Iran-India Chabahar Port Deal: Iran Kicks-Out India from Chabahar Rail Project citing funding delays

Iran-India Chabahar Port Deal: The railway project was meant to be part of India’s vow to the trilateral deal between India, Iran and Afghanistan to develop an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing a hostile Pakistan.

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The Iran-India Chabahar port deal had run out fuel. Iran has reportedly expelled India from the Chabahar rail project according to a report by The Hindu.

According to the report – four years after India and Iran signed a deal to construct a rail line from Chabahar port to Zahedan, Tehran has decided to proceed with the project by itself citing delays from New Delhi.

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The report writes – The Iranian Transport and Urban Development Minister — Mohammad Eslami inaugurated the track-laying process for Chabahar-Zahedan line, which will be extended to Zaranj in Afghanistan. Iranian officials told The Hindu that the complete project would be finished by March 2022 and that Iranian Railways will proceed without India’s support, using nearly $400 million from the Iranian National Development Fund.

The railway project was meant to be part of India’s vow to the trilateral deal between India, Iran and Afghanistan to develop an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing a hostile Pakistan.

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In May 2016, during PM Modi’s visit to Iran to sign the Chabahar pact President Rouhani and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, IRCON had signed an MoU with the Iranian Rail Ministry. The MoU was to construct the Chabahar-Zahedan railway as “part of transit and transportation corridor in a trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan”.

However, according to the Hindu, despite several site visits by IRCON engineers, India never commenced the work, apparently due to worries that these could attract U.S. sanctions. The U.S. had provided a sanctions waiver for the Chabahar port and the rail line to Zahedan, but it has been difficult to find equipment suppliers and partners due to worries they could be targeted by the U.S., said officials. India has already “zeroed out” its oil imports from Iran due to U.S. sanctions.

 

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Iran wanted India to accelerate the acquisition of heavy equipment and expedite work on a railway link to the Afghan border to boost the economic viability of the Chabahar port, according to experts.  As per earlier reports, – there was a written assurance from the US that will make it easier for banks to provide funds for the procurement of heavy equipment” said an expert.

In late 2018, the US had approved a waiver for Chabahar and the construction of a railway line from the port to the Afghan border from sanctions under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012. However, banks had been reluctant to provide loans for buying heavy equipment due to US sanctions.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had earlier raised the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link at a meeting with Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar in Tehran and asked India to expedite work on it to “benefit regional trade relations”. During that visit, India and Iran had agreed to boost Chabahar’s economic viability, including steps such as providing higher subsidies to merchant shipping using the port.

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South Asia

Modi unleashed the Indian Army against China while Congress kept a tight grip – Experts

India and China saw the worst face off in the last 45 years on the border. After the troops of the two neighbouring countries clashed on the LAC in the Galwan valley leaving 20 Indian troops dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties

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After the India-China clash last month that killed 20 Indian soldiers in a border skirmish, several anti-China protests erupted around the country. Protestors burned effigies of Chinese President Xi Jinping and called for an “economic war” against China.

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Analysts have said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive approach fits the mood of the public but it doesn’t go as far as wanting a full-blown war with its nuclear-armed, economically mighter neighbour.

As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, India and China saw the worst face off in the last 45 years on the border. After the troops of the two neighbouring countries clashed on the LAC in the Galwan valley leaving 20 Indian troops dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.

The efforts to defuse border tensions were somewhat resolved after a telephonic conversation between India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and through other diplomatic channels.

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PM Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to troops near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where he made a veiled comment on China saying “age of expansionism is over”. “History is witness that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back,” Modi said addressing soldiers in Ladakh’s Nimo.

“Modi would not let the nationalist fervour lead India into a war with China. He wants to use this nationalist sentiment, but he is also scared of the blowback it might cause,” said Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the South Asia and China Centre at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

Analysts have also argued that after the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power, Modi has given a freer rein to the army since taking power in 2014. According to S. Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Congress party sought better relations with China after the brief border war in late 1962, which meant keeping the military on a tight leash.

“Congress was always very persuasive and would ask the military not to do this or that along the border because it would aggrieve China,” Kondapalli said.

Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University explained that Modi and the BJP represent a Hindu-centric ideology, away from the secular and pluralistic nationalism that defined the country for more than half a century.

In August of last year, India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir which had granted the northern Muslim-majority province a significant autonomy. Ganguly said the BJP’s Hindu-centric nationalism influences India’s approach to the issue with China because the contested border is in Kashmir.

He further said that Modi and the BJP justified the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by pointing to separatist Muslim insurgents in the region supported by neighbouring rival Pakistan.

Ganguly argued that because of the large Muslim minority in India, and Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims, it is easy to whip up a degree of nationalist fervour by painting Muslims as fifth columnists of Pakistan.

“Whereas with China, it’s much more difficult to whip up a similar kind of nationalism because the Chinese community in India is so minuscule, but that doesn’t mean Modi isn’t trying,” he said.

“China’s military power is nearly four times that of India. Even after the deaths of the Indian soldiers on June 15, Kondapalli said the BJP had never thought of taking the dispute into anything beyond the defence of a few kilometres of land along the border with China.

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