A Covid-19 Update and an Unusual Consequence

It has to have been a different Christmas season this year.  The spirit of Christmas, of goodwill, giving and sharing, may still reside in hearts but in muted expression when the key word that we will remember always is of course … isolation. 

Covid-19, the culprit responsible for all this, gave us a holiday season surprise in a new variant — a different version of the virus.  The UK reports a rapid increase of cases linked to it in London and southeast England.  Scientists have identified changes to the spikes on the virus and other parts which allow it to spread more easily although it does not affect the severity of the disease. 

Evidence so far suggests the change is unlikely to affect vaccine efficacy.  One can only hope it remains so, and life returns to some form of normalcy. 

The EU, which has reported over 335,000 Covid-related deaths, has been quick off the mark.  They have delivered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all 27 member states and commenced vaccinations on Sunday.  It has contracted to purchase more than 2 billion vaccine doses. 

An unusual consequence of the epidemic is the treatment of activists jailed in India by the Modi government.  Father Stan Swamy is an 83-year-old Jesuit priest who has long worked for Dalits, formerly called untouchables.  Suffice to say their treatment in Indian society leaves a lot to be desired for they are the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy.

At a Dalit rally in Bhima Koregaon village (located in Maharashtra in India’s west) on January 1, 2018, sixteen activists, lawyers and poets were arrested.  Father Swamy was one of them. 

He suffers from Parkinson’s and is unable to hold a cup without spilling the contents because of hand tremors.  He therefore uses a sealed plastic drinking container with a straw.  His jailers denied him his sipper and straw. 

Outraged his supporters called for flooding Taloja jail with sippers and straws and #SippersForStan becan trending on social media.  Fortunately for the Jesuit priest the cumulative effect of the campaign secured him a sipper and straw. 

Then there is activist Gautam Navlakha who has spent his life working for civil liberties.  Also arrested at the same rally, he is 68 and almost blind without his spectacles, which were stolen from him a few days after he arrived in jail, He was sent a replacement promptly but the jail refused delivery because of Covid-19.

Indian jails are no longer accepting parcels for inmates because of the epidemic, and inmates are also not allowed visitation by family or lawyers.  Anticipating the problem his wife had discussed the situation with the jail superintendent before mailing the parcel, and had been assured there would be no problem.  So how exactly does one deliver spectacles to a political prisoner in India these days?

Then there is 80-year-old Varvara Rao also imprisoned over the same rally.  He wears a catheter that was not  changed in three months.  His family had to hold a press conference asking for emergency help before Mr. Rao received treatment for his condition.

Covid has had many consequences including maltreatment of jailed activists, themselves protesting the mistreatment of the most vulnerable in Indian society, namely the Dalits.  

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.