The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation stands in solidarity with our Indian colleagues and with the people of India currently fighting to survive the COVID-19 pandemic without meaningful support of the Indian government. In fact, the situation is nothing short of mass murder. Due to reducing investments in public health care and favoring privatized vaccine production, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government has entirely mishandled the pandemic and has thereby led to the officially confirmed deaths of nearly 240,000 people and 21 million infections. However, these numbers are already misleading and indicative of Modi’s failure: official reports of daily deaths number 4,000+ deaths while the tally is realistically closer to 250,000+, meaning that the total death count could be over 650,000. There are not enough hospital beds, ambulances, vaccines (none of which are free), drugs, and oxygen for those who are ill. As of Sunday, May 9, 2021, only 2.5% of the Indian population is fully vaccinated and 7.2% have had their first dose.
This dismal situation is part of a long-standing trend since the 1980s with India’s compliance with the IMF’s structural adjustment programs and subsequently the formal liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991. This has resulted in the destruction of India’s life-making institutions and infrastructure (e.g., public healthcare and education) essential to the maintenance of the Indian people, while it rose to rank among the top 20 countries for its spending on private healthcare. Additionally, development projects such as the construction of car factories, dams, and mines have displaced millions and dispossessed them from their land. This broader context of liberalization’s destruction of social institutions exhibits a key feature in capitalism’s drive to increase surplus value at the expense of the means and conditions for reproducing human life within society. As Tithi Bhattycharya keenly observes, “wages are mostly effectively lowered when capital can successfully lower the parameters of social reproduction of life and labor power” outside of production such that “this murderous logic – of capitalism devaluing life through austerity – [is] playing out in India on such a scale that even the rich and powerful are not safe.” Faced with COVID-19, the Indian people have been left to die in lockdown without support from the state. Thus, innumerous mutual aid networks have cropped up to fill in necessary social reproductive labor that the state fails to provide.
We urge our GTFF members to educate ourselves on this crisis and the history leading up to it. To this end, we encourage our members to attend the “Crime Against Humanity: India’s Covid Catastrophe” teach-in webinar on Saturday, May 15th, 9 am – 10:30 pm PST, organized by a few of our own rank and file members, for a conversation with inspiring thinkers and activists from India, directly from the field, to reflect and discuss how we can perhaps collectively reorganise, shift power and pivot towards building transformative realities. Register for the teach-in webinar here!
Additionally, we call on our members to act with concern and compassion toward our Indian colleagues, students, and community members. This includes staying vigilant to anti-Indian discrimination and promoting awareness and support. Here are some great organizations to support who are working to address the crisis in India: Quarantine Students Youth Network, Hemkunt Foundation, Mutual Aid India, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, and Oxygen for India.