SSRC, India’s International Webinar on “Covid 19 and South Asia: Country Experiences’
Social Science Research Community (SSRC), India, in collaboration with South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) organized its third webinar session on “Covid 19 and South Asia: Country Experiences’ on 3 July 2020. Four scholars and activists form the region Dr. Ammar Ali Jan (Pakistan), Mirwais Parsa (Afganistan), Nalini Ratnarajah (Sri Lanka) and Padma Prasad Khatiwada (Nepal) participated as the key speakers in the webinar. The session was presided over by Professor Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Head, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University and President, SSRC, India.
In his initial remarks Prof. Dutta pointed out that the growing control over national economies by private and corporate forces and the dismantling of public healthcare institutions under neo-liberal orthodoxies failed the governments across the south Asian region to address the challenges emanated from COVID 19. Closure of borders across countries, regions and provinces as a strategy to check the spread of virus is contributing towards obsession with multiple identities- from nationalism to provincialism and beyond. Prof. Dutta apprehends that freedom may be the casualty in the long run if the tendencies of concentration of power under different laws related to epidemics and disaster management persists for long.
Speaking in the webinar, Ammar Ali Jan, scholar and historian from Pakistan who teaches at Forman Christian College, Lahore pointed out that the gravest crises of COVID 19 which has been exacerbated in Pakistan is primarily due to the economic
disparities in society, the authoritarian structure of the state and the incompetence of the current government. He pointed out that the Pakistani government has attacked workers, arrested students and forced doctors to go on an unprecedented hunger strike. While the situation exposes the fault lines in the country's political economy, it also makes the task of imagining an alternative future an urgent necessity.
Mirwais Parsa, Afghan scholar who is presently pursuing his Ph.D. in Economics at South Asian University, New Delhi, India informed that the people of Afghanistan are facing the catastrophic and extreme consequences of Corona Virus due to a variety of reasons unique to Afghanistan, e.g., the ongoing conflict and its interaction with COVID-19, the return of unexpectedly high numbers of Afghan refugees from the neighboring countries that have been the epicenters of Covid-19 almost since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the deficient healthcare capacity of Afghanistan government. Against these backdrops, the prospects for the normalcy of economic and social life do not seem promising in Afghanistan, at least for the immediate future.
Reflecting of the situation in Sri Lanka, Nalini Ratnarajah, leading women’s human rights defender, political activist and columnist, argued that the Sri Lankan democracy is infected by Covid 19 as the epidemic has been attempted to be handled militarily. She pointed out that the President’s task force on Covid 19 is led by former military commander which also controls the health sector. The struggling economy is going towards a crisis with a recorded depreciation and the mainstream media has indulged in promoting hate against the Muslims, she pointed out.
Reflecting on the Nepal situation, Padma Prasad Khatiwada, Associate Professor at Tribhuvan University argued that his country which has been under complete lockdown since 30 April 2020, has witnessed severe restrictions on mobility. Speaking on the social and economic challenges, Khatiwada pointed out that as the Government revenues shrink and the investment is to be diverted to Covid-19 response, the Government has cut down the investment on social sectors and development works. This can push more people to poverty, hunger and malnutrition, he pointed out.
Chinese hegemonic presence in South Asia and the IMF dictated neoliberal policies and their adverse implications for sovereignty and democacry figured prominently in the webinar. The insularity in the thought processes and growing authoritarian tendencies in the pretext of the COVID 19 were also focused by the speakers.
The webinar was also addressed by Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty (University of Delhi) and Prof. Beatriz Bissio (Federal University of Rio de Jenerio, Brazil) and was attended by Prof. Bidyut Mohanty (Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi) and Dr. Netra Timsina (Regional Coordinator, SAAPE, Nepal) among others.
The webinar was moderated by Dr. Sreeparna Bhattacarjee (Assam University) Dr. Dibyajyoti Dutta (Dibrugarh University) and Chinmoyee Das (SB Deorah College) attended by scholars, activists and researchers from all across South Asia.