Differential impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown
COVID-19 has established economic equality:
- The disease can strike anyone.
- The resultant lockdowns have led to widespread job losses and economic hardships across a range of income and occupational distribution.
The marginalised at risk:
- Preliminary data and early indirect evidence from several parts of the world indicate that the incidence of the disease is not class-neutral.
- Poorer and economically vulnerable populations are more likely to contract the virus as well as to die from it.
- The risks extend beyond mortality as the economic consequences of the current pandemic are likely to be most concentrated among the low wage earners, and less-educated workers, segments of the labour force where racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented.
The Indian shutdown:
- The proportion of employed upper castes dropped from 39% to 32% between December 2019 and April 2020, a fall of 7 percentage points.
- The corresponding fall for Scheduled Castes (SCs) was from 44% to 24%, i.e. a fall of 20 percentage points.
- Thus, the fall in employment for SCs and STs was far greater in magnitude than that for upper castes.
Education as a factor:
- Data from a nationally representative survey, the India Human Development Survey for 2011-12 (IHDS-II) show that 51% of SC households have adult women who have zero years of education, i.e. are illiterate, and 27% have an illiterate adult male member.
- These proportions are in contrast to Upper Caste (UC) households, where the corresponding proportions are 11% and 24%, respectively.
- Thus, in the face of current school closures, parents of SC children would be much less equipped to assist their children with any form of home learning, compared to parents of UC children.
- The global evidence suggests that job losses associated with COVID-19 are much more concentrated among individuals with low levels of education and those with vulnerable jobs with no tenure or security.
- This would be the case both because of educational differences among parents as well as due to other significant differences in material living conditions.
Issue of technology:
- There are many dimensions that reveal the continued disparity between caste groups, which would affect the ability of Dalit and Adivasi families to access online education.
- There exists differential access to information technology.
- While investment in technology is critical in shaping access to online education, a disparity in the ability to invest in technology persists.
- The economic distress that resulted from pandemic-induced lockdown is exacerbating pre-existing structures of disadvantage based on social identity, and investments in education.
- It is essential to reduce/close the gaps between social groups to build resilience in the face of future shocks.