The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

India:
A Revealing Health Tragedy

May 10, 2021

The following is reprinted from Lutte Ouvrière, the journal of the revolutionary group of the same name, active in France.

With 400,000 new infections and 4,000 officially recorded deaths daily, the Covid-19 epidemic is now spreading uncontrollably in India’s big cities and even in the Indian countryside.

The dramatic images of people dying on the sidewalks, and funeral pyres set up in public parks, symbolize this tragedy.

All observers agree in estimating that this massacre is, deliberately or for lack of means, largely underestimated by the central government as well as by the various executives of the states that make up the Indian Union. The real death toll could be 50,000 a day!

One of the most pressing problems is the shortage of oxygen to compensate for situations of respiratory distress. Its production is largely insufficient, especially since the government has allowed several industrial sectors, including steel and petroleum, to continue to receive the enormous volumes of oxygen they consume.

For the transport of this gas, India has only 1,172 trucks equipped in a country six times the size of France and whose road network does not allow rapid delivery. The few trains put into service, called Oxygen Express, and the army planes that transported empty trucks to speed up rotations, are not enough to alleviate this situation. Many hospitals are also not even equipped to store the oxygen they need.

The very limited international aid beginning to be channeled will be completely inadequate for slowing down the current dynamic. But it allows the leaders of the great powers, whose record in this area is pitiful, and whose companies are plundering India even now, to pose as saviors and givers of lessons.

An economy both as unequally developed as that of India, and entirely organized according to the sole interests of the richest and of imperialism, is quite incapable of facing the crisis and meeting the needs of its population. This tragedy highlights in particular the crying under-investment in the health system for decades. The bourgeoisie has access to modern equipment, often in private establishments. The government prides itself on having transformed the country into “the world’s pharmacy”: the pharmaceutical industry employs 2.7 million people and provides 60% of the world production of vaccines, as a subcontractor for large pharmaceutical companies. But very few of those doses are going into Indian arms. They’re being shipped to wealthy countries like the United States!

Accessing healthcare remains a real struggle for the vast majority of those who are exploited. India has only five hospital beds and eight doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, which places it in 137th place in the world. Ninety percent of the poor have no health coverage at all, and have to pay the entire cost for any medicine.

Faced with government carelessness and contempt, anger is growing against Prime Minister Modi. For months, ignoring doctors’ warnings and hiding the true numbers, he preferred to engage his troops in the election campaign and flatter his most religious supporters, allowing a pilgrimage of millions of believers from all over the country.

The second wave of Covid came shortly after Modi claimed victory over the disease, saying India’s success could not be compared to any other country and that he had "saved mankind from a great catastrophe by effectively controlling the coronavirus.” Denying all the evidence, Modi still claims to have the situation under control.

In reality, the government has done nothing, especially to alleviate the oxygen shortage. And Modi continues to accuse the state governments and especially the population, including millions of small peasants who have been fighting against his agrarian policy for months, of being responsible for the resumption of the epidemic! The government’s only response is to decree a containment that plunges tens of millions of workers into extreme poverty and reduces them to starvation.

Faced with the contempt of their leaders—servants of the interests of the Indian bourgeoisie and the imperialist powers—the working class and the poor peasantry constitute a considerable force: The only force capable of pulling this country out of the underdevelopment and barbarism to which capitalism condemns them.