As of November 2020, India has 8.5 million COVID-19 cases and 123,000 deaths, placing the country as the second-most impacted nation after the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. On March 24, the country began its lockdown; yet in June, it began to loosen strict policies to try and combat the worsening economy.
Former MVHS student and senior Unnati Chandani currently lives in Pune, a city located in Maharashtra, one of the most populous states in India and the state with over 1 million COVID-19 cases — the highest in the country. She has noticed that during the beginning of lockdown, policies and rules were enforced more strictly than they are now, despite the growing number of cases.
Schools started adapting to virtual learning strategies, and the 2020 board examinations were held online instead. These board examinations determine class grades at the end of the school year and hold a strong influence over college decisions.
However, students this year who have to take board examinations in March of 2021 haven’t had the opportunity to practice activities like labs that couldn’t be organized over online school. Some schools starting in November are now offering the option to start attending classes on-campus again, designating a group of students to go on campus one week and another group the next week.
Unnati acknowledges that because class sizes are significantly smaller in her area — her grade consists of approximately 40 students — this on-campus schooling option isn’t as risky as it would be in larger schools.
Additionally, aside from schooling issues, there were concerns of police brutality nationwide; multiple business owners that didn’t close before the designated curfew time in their area faced aggression and violence, as did citizens who went out past curfew or without a mask. However, Unnati notes that cases of excessive force have noticeably diminished in the recent months. Although Unnati and her father, Deepak Chandani, have not had to face direct hostility from officials in their area, both of them note that it has grown common for officials to photograph and fine citizens not following COVID-19 protocols.
“I was once reading a book in the car, and I did not realize that at a traffic light, a cop was knocking on the window because I was not wearing a mask,” Deepak said. “There is a fine if you do not wear a mask, but then some of the other police officers let me go. So [it] was good to see that they are enforcing policies but that I was also able to go without paying the fine.”
Unnati noticed this change in how officials and businesses were responding to COVID-19 policies around August and September. In March and the first few months of lockdown, grocery stores would only open in the morning and have just recently started extending their hours.
However, as months pass and restrictions grow more flexible, Deepak has noted that citizens in areas around them have started to take protocol and precautions less seriously.
“Because we are in the seventh month of constraints and lockdowns, people have actually become kind of bold,” Deepak said. “Though there are measures [about] wearing your mask, washing your hands, keeping social distance, people have become bold, bold to the point that they are not following protocol to the right level, which it should be.”
Deepak’s and Unnati’s building complex, which they refer to as their society, is composed of a large portion of foreigners. Unnati believes that this may be a reason for why their society’s community has kept to COVID-19 precautions so well.
“It was weirdly strict, especially in the beginning of lockdown,” Unnati said. “But I feel like even if you just moved three minutes from where I live and go somewhere else, there’s people without masks not taking protocols as seriously. I feel like the police are trying to do their best to identify those people, but there are issues like access to a mask for people that live maybe in slums, or not that resourceful of places. There’s a lot of people that live in villages so if one person gets it, it just gets passed really quickly.”
Deepak is thankful that their specific society has provided a safe environment and community. Even when others in their complex had mild symptoms, he believes that they were open and honest about any possible signs of the virus. His community within his building complex still prioritizes staying active outside to encourage health and stronger immune systems, but has been cautious by wearing masks and staying away from large groups.
“Because people in Pune are more educated, they follow the rules better,” Deepak said. “What I’ve seen in many tier-two cities, tier-three cities, is that people have not been as vigilant about taking precautions, as they should.”
Because Unnati’s society has been relatively cautious about the virus, she feels comfortable occasionally going on walks with other friends within her building complex. However, her friend group outside of her society has tried to minimize physical interaction, only meeting around once every three months.
Similarly, MVHS junior Anika Mishra has family and relatives living in New Delhi, and notes that they follow strict guidelines similar to those in Pune. Because her relatives live in an apartment, they haven’t been able to leave their building — some people at the front gate are assigned to deliver groceries instead of building residents leaving themselves (although the store is approximately a five minute walk away). Her uncle has also tried to stay cautious with COVID-19 protocols by ensuring that the children in his family don’t leave the house.
Misha’s father’s close friend, who lived near her cousin, recently passed away from the virus, which is another factor that has affected how her relatives respond to maintaining COVID-19 guidelines. She believes that if every single person living in cities in India follows these protocols similar to what her relatives did, this can only help their country.
“I think the way that India has been handling the pandemic is a lot better than how we’ve been handling it here [in the U.S.] because they’re a lot more strict about the precautions that they take,” Mishra said. “We were supposed to stay at home and walk around with masks on and all of that. But there’s still a lot of people that don’t exactly do that. And then in the middle, I think of quarantine, there was a time when things were starting to reopen. But as soon as that happened, people started partying or meeting in big groups of people countrywide.”
She attributes this difference in COVID-19 protocol response between the U.S. and India to the belief that the U.S. states that are not as heavily impacted by the pandemic haven’t conveyed the same sense of concern in preventing cases by decreasing susceptibility to the virus.
“It’s like, ‘It’s OK, the other states will figure it out,’ and those states don’t really realize that every single person who is trying to fight COVID and who’s taking all the necessary precautions [are] actually helping, even if you’re in an area where it’s not exactly too serious,” Mishra said.
Ultimately, Unnati, Deepak and Mishra all agree that when it comes to determining how to maintain COVID-19 protocols and safeguards, it really comes down to the community. Deepak acknowledges that other factors such as resources and opportunities also play an important role, but his society is what he feels has made the biggest difference in his experience with the pandemic.
“We have been blessed to live in a community where people are very supportive of one another,” Deepak said. “So I am very lucky to live in a society and city where people are following protocol better. Otherwise, though Maharashtra is number one in India, I think it would have been much much worse if people would not have been careful.”