Locking Down the Poor: The Pandemic and India’s Moral Centre


Harsh Mander


Paperback 9789389958751



Combining ground reports with hard data, Mander argues with great clarity and passion that when the pandemic arrived, the Indian state abandoned its poor and plunged India into the middle of a humanitarian catastrophe.



In early 2020 the first cases of Covid-19 infection were confirmed in India, and on 24 March the country’s prime minister announced a nationwide lockdown, giving the population of over 1.3 billion just four hours’ notice.


Within days, it became evident that India had plunged into its biggest humanitarian crisis since Partition. In this powerful book, Harsh Mander shows us how grave this crisis was and continues to be, and why it is the direct consequence of public policy choices that the Indian government made, particularly of imposing the world’s longest and most stringent lockdown, with the smallest relief package.


The Indian state abandoned its poor and marginalized, even as it destroyed their livelihoods and pushed them to the brink of starvation. Mander brings us voices of out-of-work daily-wage and informal workers, the homeless and the destitute, all overwhelmed by hunger and dread. From the highways and overcrowded quarantine centres, he brings us stories of migrant workers who walked hundreds of kilometres to their villages or were prevented from doing so and detained.


He lays bare the criminal callousness at the heart of a strategy that forced people to stay indoors in a country where tens of crores live in congested shanties or single rooms with no possibility of physical distancing, no toilets and no running water.




‘From one of India’s most courageous and outspoken moral voices, This is a searing account of the social apathy, political folly, economic distress, institutional failure and lack of basic compassion that marked the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic’ – Pamela Philipose, public editor, The Wire


‘It makes you understand what it has done to the poor, including migrant workers and slum dwellers, villagers and marginal communities like the muslims. It is also a revealing assessment of the public policies launched by the Government of India – which has not spent much money to help people, but has seized the opportunity to liberalise the economy further.’ – Christophe Jaffrelot, author and scholar of South Asian politics and society.


‘When the definitive history of India’s response to the pandemic is written, this book will serve as a harrowing reminder of its signature characteristic: the profoundly callous disregard displayed by the tiny coterie of the privileged, from politicians and bureaucratics to scientists and the upper classes, for the welfare of the voiceless millions who make up the majority of India’s population.’ – Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health, Harvard Medical School


‘A powerful, poignant chronicle of brutal exclusion and mass hunger. Locking Down the Poor is not a book, it is a ledger of our accountability at a time when the poor of India have been brought to the brink of despair by a callous state and an uncaring, unequal society.’ – Shah Alam Khan, author and professor, All India Institute of Medical Sciences

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Harsh Mander

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