tv Witness LINKTV January 23, 2023 9:00am-9:31am PST
emma: for weeks now, the indian government has insisted these people just don't exist. they're the hoards of workers from big cities whose bosses often give them somewhere to live. now they're unemployed and desperate to return to their villages. barkha dutt: we want to pretend that this isn't happening and we want to forget that we're now entering the fifth week of the lockdown. and i'm gonna try and talk to some of the women here. they walk really fast. [speaking foreign language] emma: barkha dutt is one of india's most famous journalists. she's been working with me so we can tell you this story together. [speaking foreign language]
emma: raul and his family have no choice but to return to their rural homes on foot after the state suddenly suspended all public transport. as the snap shutdown was announced, barkha dutt and her team set out to explore india's empty expressways. barkha: so they are carrying their life's belongings. they're obviously much fitter than i am because they're able
to walk faster. they're able to walk longer. and they will walk like this for 10 days if needed they say. and let's try and talk to some of the children up ahead if he can get the camera to move up ahead to some of the very, very young children. [speaking foreign language] emma: up to 90% of indians work in the informal economy. they earn around $4 a day. many of them are migrant workers. they move to the city chasing off jobs that pay a daily wage.
they've got no security, no legal protections, and are vulnerable to poverty and starvation. calling them migrant workers is ironic because they're all indian, born and raised. but in a country where the class divide is gargantuan, they may as well be from another place. with australia's vast spaces, small population, and our wealth, it's not hard to practice social distancing here. barkha: okay, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. emma: oh, i can hear you now. that's terrific. so barkha, is the story you're telling now in india the one you thought you would be recounting when you first hit the streets at the beginning of this crisis? barkha: not really, emma. we thought that our focus in terms of reporting would be much
more centered around the coronavirus itself, patients grappling with it, what was happening in the hospitals. we have 45 million indians who work as migrant workers. in other words, they migrate from the village which is their home and come to the big city to look for work. and what we found was that when the prime minister, narendra modi, first annoced the lockdown, you have millions of indians, hundreds of thousands sometimes at one go just fleeing the cities. ♪♪♪ emma: this was the chaos that followed the decision to impose the biggest shutdown in the world. an announcement by pm narendra modi at 8 pm on the 24th of march gave more than 1.3 billion people just 4 hours to lock themselves indoors. as people attempted to flee the cities, episodes of police
brutality began to appear on social media. some local authorities even sprayed migrant workers with disinfectant. the government says there was no choice but to shut the country down quickly. ashok malik: you had trains packed with migrants trying to go home, which is completely understandable. but they would have taken the coronavirus back to rural areas that were least equipped to dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude and it would have led to--potentially have led to a catastrophe outcome. emma: two weeks later when the lockdown was extended, it happened again. authorities used canes to force people away from a mumbai train station. emma: the scenes we saw at the train station gives an impression that migrant workers are almost the enemy
to be battled rather than looked after. vinod shetty: the narrative has been created that the poor are not ready to go into a lockdownnd they e jeopardizing the lives of the civil society. people are left to fend for themselves and you find migrant labor, which is actually creating wealth for mumb, are thrown under the bus. ♪♪♪ emma: mumbai is india's richest city. home to more than 20 million, the streets usually teem with life. no one can remember it looking like this before. the main square and the financial district hide one of the biggest slums on earth, dharavi.
it's also one of the country's covid-19 hotspots. one thousand people here are infected. at least 56 have died. this city wouldn't function without the people who live here. [speaking foreign language] emma: dharavi is home to many of the people who work in mumbai's garment industry. akram shah employs migrant workers to sew school uniforms. we've asked him to film his home for us.
before his six workers left, they all lived in two rooms alongside akram's family of eight. now with no work and no income, akram says they'll soon have to rely on donations of food. [speaking foreign language] emma: the government has already handed out more than 600 million food parcels and it's announced a rescue package worth $400 billion. even so, much of the job of looking after the poor is still
falling to charities, like the one run by vinod shetty. here he is with the children in dharavi shortly before the shutdown was enforced. vinod: the people do not have access to water, clean toilets, hygiene. water itself is a premium. you have to pay to get a few gallons of water. and toilets are-- the average user for toilet seat is 80 people. emma: eighty? vinod: eighty, 8-0. so with people all locked down in the slum, the numbers will increase. so all the safe diancing, the physical distance, the sanitation, the washing of hands, all these are very difficult things to implement in a slum. ♪♪♪
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [speaking foreign language] emma: sanjiv shah lives in a slum in delhi. he was born in rural india but moved to the capital as a child with his mother after his father died and relatives seized their land. he works six days a week in a factory that makes steam irons, supporting his family on less than $10 a day. they all live in one tiny room. [speaking foreign language]
♪♪♪ emma: acclaimed writer arundhati roy is spending lockdown at her home in delhi, not far from the many slums that dot the city. she's a long time campaigner for the rights of india's dispossessed rural poor. arundhati roy: until about 15 years ago, india was a country where i would say something like 80% of the population lived in rural areas and was involved in agricultural activity.
and there was a huge attack on village people, you know, in terms of huge infrastructure projects, dams, building highways, and millions of people were being displaced and driven into the city out of complete despair. people who had farmland around cities now turned it into sort of workers quarters, and then they literally crammed 10 workers into a room. they are exploited. they are forced to buy rations from these landlords. they're living in sort of--conditions. emma: for sanjiv and the millions of other indians crammed into slums, getting ill from covid-19 is a real concern. [speaking foreign language]
emma: twenty households share one tap, which often runs for just an hour a day. [speaking foreign language] emma: the assertion that you are as a government doing enough to reach those in ed. ashok: in a country of 1.3 billion people, you will appreciate that there is--not everyone can be taken care of, even with our best efforts, but the primary concern at that point was that people should stay where they are.
♪♪♪ barkha: india will not be another italy, france, or usa. emma: barkha dutt has now clocked more than 60 days on the road. she's exposing the traumas india's most disadvantaged are living through. barkha: okay, rolling? we came here after we heard that a migrant worker has taken his own life, that the economic hardship proved too much for him to take. and we have here his family, and you have here his wife, his four children, and his in-laws, his father-in-law
and his mother-in-law. emma: these children's father, mukesh mandal, lost his house painting job in the city before the lockdown. with no prospect of income during the pandemic, he sold his mobile phone for 2500 rupees, the equivalent $50 australian. he made it back to his village, and a short time later his wife found him dead. [speaking foreign language] barkha: there's a part of me as a reporter who feels terrible coming to talk to a family in this moment of their loss and there's another part of me that feels that if i didn't do it, if we didn't invade their grief, as it were at this moment, perhaps this family and other families like them would never get help. it's pouring down here. and we can go back to the shelter of our homes and to the
material comfort of our lives, but this family is not just battling corona. it is battling extreme economic hardship. ♪♪♪ emma: the indian government shut down the country fast when it saw what was happening to overburdened hospitals overseas. even before the virus hit, the health system was already struggling. the country has among the world's highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, and tuberculosis. barkha: when they say the coronavirus is the great equalizer, that's simply not true. there is a disproportionate number of poor people who are suffering. and one more thing, you know, when the government says, "stay at home," to indians and says, "you are safe," that's for people like me, my class of people. but for 92 million indian households who actually stay in one room, one room tenements, "stay at home" can sometimes
mean eight people to a room. emma: today, barkha dutt is speaking to me from outside one of the country's biggest hospitals. barkha: this is one of the hospitals where normally a lot of our poorest patients come for medical treatment, for everything from tuberculosis, to cancer, to hiv treatment. but this hospital has now become a covid-only facility. in fact, when we were here this morning, we met this gentlemen who's driven from outside the capital to come and try and get some medical help here. he's an hiv-positive patient. he's been diagnosed with aids and he came to collect some very important medicine. [speaking foreign language] emma: so what option does that gentleman have now for treatment? barkha: as we just saw, emma, the fact is that poor indian patients are going hospital to hospital, and still in many cases unable to get medical intervention.
and this is a growing concern for the country now. as we battle the pandemic, what happens to the non-covid poor patients of india? emma: outside of the main cities, it's even harder to find medical treatment. ramanan laxminarayan: the south of india, in health system terms, resembles ireland, and the north of india resembles sierra leone, so you're talking about vastly different capacities within a single country. emma: ramanan laxminarayan is an epidemiologist and health economist who splits his time between india and the united states. emma: tuberculosis we know is a particular challenge for india, killing something i understand like 1,300 people a day. how is the hospital system dealing with that dema alongside the challenges of covid-19? ramanan: so this has been a real challengen india,hich is that outpatient departments have been shut down and people
requiring care for more routine things like tuberculosis, like cancer, like other chronic diseases have often been turned away. because of the nature of the lockdown, which has been extremely strict, which makes sense from a covid standpoint, it probably is exacerbating that from other causes. and this really is a tragedy because it's not as if these other diseases come to a halt just because covid is around. they're all continuing. emma: as far as the coronavirus threat goes, the situation in india is not yet as serious as experts feared it might be, with only 3,000 recorded deaths as of may the 18th. the country's relative youth could be a factor. sixty-five percent of the population is under 35 years of age. but without significantly more testing, the true rate of infection is impossible to know.
emma: how trsparent has government been in terms of providing you with that essential information. indeed, how cooperative are the hospitals being in terms of providing the data? barkha: well, emma, there is a daily press briefing that the federal government, the modi government holds where you have officials give you the latest numbers of covid infected and how many tests have been conducted, but beyond that, the real stories are not stories that, as you know, come from government giving you those stories. you have to go out and you really have to go out to find those stories, to ferret out information. if i had not been at the borders, i would never have met the workers who are walking hundreds of kilometers, you know, in search of home, often without food. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ emma: barkha dutt and her crew are now driving south from
delhi to reach another of india's covid-19 hotspots. barkha: yeah, the child walking over the stones, we must have that in the report. emma: for more than 20 years, she's hosted a prime time tv talk show. now, she runs her own digital media company. barkha: sorry, i may have mispronounced that name. or maybe you can't tell. female: you can't really tell. it's real hard-- emma: posts on her youtube channel have been viewed 33 million times. ♪♪♪ emma: sixteen hours later, they finally arrive. the city of indore was one of the first to shutter its shop fronts, barricade its town square.
it's an area with a large muslim community. with direct flights from dubai, it's thought the outbreak in indore may have come from there. barkha: so aman, hello, hello. oh my god. incredible. we were stopped every 100 meters. it was a complete struggle to get here. so we are on like two hours of sleep and no food. emma: thirty percent of india's early coronavirus cases were blamed on a mass gathering in delhi of one particular islamic sect. muslim communities across the country are now feeling afraid. barkha: so emma, let me just tell you what he's actually saying. he's saying that in some homes here in this predominantly muslim neighborhood, there's a feral stigma and backlash among muslims, you know, and that's something we've been showing is happening across cities of india.
a very high number of muslims went to hospitals and were not able to be treated. emma: to the extent that you can gauge it in a lockdown, what's the mood like there in indore? barkha: all surreal, because you know, where i'm standing, it was a wholesale market. you couldn't find breathing space. this city has an all-night food bazaar. it was one of my favorite places to come to. and all of that just seems now from an alternative universe and so much in our life and the world as we know it has changed. and you come to--you know, you come to all these cities that used to be throbbing with life and pulsating with people, and you suddenly have sort of, you know, just emptied out streets. you have a bluer sky, but that's not enough compensation for no life on the streets. emma: the indian government is taking tentative steps to reopen its economy, even while the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly.
do you think the shutdown has been worth the cost to the indian economy? not just in dollar terms, but in overall well-being of your people, given the fact that there is--there was general poor health among your population going into ts pandemic. ashok: the lives versus livelihoods sort of equation is a difficult one. it's also an ethical dilemma. early in the crisis in the uk and even in india, people spoke about herd immunity being the only way to fight this. now, it sounds nice when you're writing in op-ed and using terms like "herd immunity." in a country of 1.3 billion people, it could have led to maybe a million deaths. we don't know. i can't even put a number to it. emma: migrant workers are still walking the long journey
home, eight weeks after they suddenly found themselves unemployed and penniless. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ emma: even though some public transport is now running again, these cement workers say they had no money for a ticket. [speaking foreign language] emma: many of the migrant workers are telling barkha dutt they don't plan to return to the cities. [speaking foreign language] emma: the lockdown may have slowed the spread of the virus, but it's also exposed some uncomfortable truths.
emma: barkha, what have been the lessons from this pandemic do you think for india? barkha: well, i think, for me, what it's taught me is that even i didn't notice or i had become numb to the class divide of my country, to the deep inequalities. and i think this is a reminder to us that if the lockdown has indeed worked, and i hope it has, and it seems to have, then a disproportionate amount of that price for keep the country safe has been paid by the poorest indian citizens. and for that, i think we owe them. instead, we have so many of our elites acting as if they are the problem. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪
this i♪♪♪eality. allan clarke: france is fiercely proud of its culture and history. walk down any of paris's grand boulevards, and you quickly realize the capital is a monument to the glories of the empire. the nation's cultural trophies are on display in its world-class museums. now the debate about who owns many of these precious objects is firing up. allan: when france colonized africa, it brought home