“Including the Excluded” Must Be the Mantra of Post-COVID Rehabilitation
By Dr. Fatima Burnad
Dr. Fatima Burnad is the founder and Executive Director of the Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) has been working among the Dalit community in Tamilnadu, India for the past 37 years.She is leader in the social movement seeking greater economic opportunity and political influence for these largely landless and economically backward people and has been especially active in organizing Dalit women. SRED, under her leadership documents and fights against human rights abuses; from police brutality to the assassination of Dalit women; from social and economic exclusion to abject poverty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women, especially marginalized women, disproportionately. The heaviest burden is on women, who have no work, and as a consequence, they have nothing to eat, and are unable to buy provisions, vegetables, and medicines. Moreover, gender-based violence and violence on children are also increasing, leading to extreme distress. The effects of this lockdown will be felt for a long time. It is important for us to look ahead and take care of the people who have felt the worst effects of the lockdown.
While medical care is important, taking care of people who have lost their livelihoods is equally important, and cannot be postponed. It is this second effort—to take care of women who are affected by the lockdown—that Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) is involved in currently.
SRED selected 110 women who are members of women’s collectives, who can work with the identify people from their community who are in extreme need of assistance. SRED has helped them overcome their distress for the time being, and is looking at supporting more people from disadvantaged communities: Irulars (tribal people), Dalits, sex workers, women street vendors, and Narikuravars (nomads), to name a few.
Policy measures from the governments have been slow and sporadic, and it is important for the relief measures to reach people quickly and efficiently.
The financial effect of COVID-19 will continue even beyond the lockdown, and efforts must be made to ensure that all free schemes not be withdrawn as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Most families have fallen into debt, and it will take a long time for them to come out of it. It is important that policy and lawmakers take this into account, and ensure that their financial situation is taken care of for a substantial period after the lockdown.
Post-COVID, it is time that policy makers take active steps to include those who are traditionally excluded from the benefits system—for example, sex workers, migrant labourers, and nomadic tribes.
COVID-19 has proven to be a test that exposes faults and cracks in the system. This is the best time for civil society and governments to take careful note, so that they can be fixed once we are out of emergency mode.