GW community should engage in advocacy to respond to India’s COVID-19 crisis

As an Indian American, I’ve been feeling conflicted about the progress that the United States has made in immunizing ourselves against COVID-19 in comparison the horror India is facing. At the same time I can stroll into the doctor’s office to get my second dose of the vaccine, my fellow Indian Americans and I have family members whose lives are at risk if they step outside of their homes. The dichotomy between the two situations underscores the experience of reaping the privileges that come along with residing in a rich country while still feeling deeply connected to one with fewer resources.

Coronavirus infections continue to rage on in India. Only 10 percent of the Indian population has been inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, as opposed to 47 percent of the American population.

Meanwhile in the United States, lawmakers are having a hard time trying to herd their constituents into a CVS or Walgreens to get a dose of vaccines that are simply lying around, and some that are even going to waste. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine even announced that five vaccinated residents have the chance to win $1 million in an effort to incentivize unvaccinated individuals to get a shot.

Needless to say, it’s hard to feel elated about the United States’ progress while seeing the horrific headlines updating the world on the second wave of the pandemic in India. But there are actionable steps that the Indian diaspora can take that could make a positive impact on India both in the short- and long-term.

There are ways in which the GW community can and should respond. Donations to nonprofit organizations, like Direct Relief and the American India Foundation, are crucial to alleviating the lack of resources needed to combat the virus, like oxygen cylinders and ventilators. Several organizations are also focusing on donating to India’s marginalized communities, who are projected to be hit harder by the virus. Using social media stories and posts can be useful to spread the word and make it easier for friends and family to contribute.

But it is also important that the Indian diaspora at GW, especially those of us who hail from upper-caste Hindu backgrounds, engage in discussions that address the extent to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government played a significant role in the negligent handling of the first and second waves of the pandemic in India.

Modi and his allies have been downplaying the true extent of the pandemic, and have even gone to the lengths of changing laws to choke off foreign aid. If the diaspora intends to both alleviate the current crisis and prevent a similar one, it needs to constantly engage with the political developments in India by speaking to Modi-supporting friends and family. We also need to acknowledge the diversity within the Indian American and South Asian community so that our beliefs about Indian politics can come from a place of greater awareness rather than inheriting the biases that our parents might have. Those of us who do hail from more privileged backgrounds must educate ourselves on caste politics, through books and long-form articles, so that we are cognizant of how our privileges in India made way for our lives in the United States.

Similar to former President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus, many have accused Modi of being more obsessed with projecting a rosier narrative of the government’s handling of the pandemic than acknowledging the true severity of the situation and acting to help those who are dying of the disease. India’s solicitor general, Tushar Mehta – a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party – called those who are asking for oxygen “cry babies,” while Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan claimed that India was better prepared to beat COVID-19 this year than 2020 just last week.

Thirty-five percent of Indian Americans who range from the ages of 18 to 29 still support Modi, according to a survey from September of last year. Overall, 50 percent of Indian Americans continue to support the prime minister. The survey found that the average Modi supporter was Hindu and belonged to a higher caste. Modi’s support among the diaspora is crucial in holding his party’s majority. An estimated 8,000 Americans and Britons flew to India to campaign for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014.

This is most definitely not the first time Modi’s governance has harmed marginalized groups in India, and the continuing support he and his party receives from upper-caste Hindus who have immigrated to America is troubling. If we are to combat this support, it is important that many of us confront our own biases so we don’t pass the ones that we might have inherited from Modi-supporting family members on to our children.

The short-term help we can provide to India is dependent on how much money we can give. This effort is well underway, as wealthy Indian Americans who work in tech and business sectors generously donated millions of dollars that will help expand hospital capacity and oxygen production. To avoid a crisis like this one in the future, it is crucial that each of us engage in discussions that think critically about Indian politics and Modi’s government in particular.

Shreeya Aranake, a junior majoring in history, is the contributing opinions editor.

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