A Lockdown Remix Experience In Peoples’ Land Kolkata!

If we can assume that people are already familiarized with the concept of lockdown as it has been more than a year since the national lockdown was imposed in India in March 2020, on the basis of this assumption we can go on to opine that the present version of the lockdown in Kolkata and the state of West Bengal has been a remix. Of course, the local media here has been terming this as only a ‘near-lockdown’, and we also know the kind of ‘mixed’ approaches adopted by various states of India to lockdown, but the experience here is unique and not related to most of the other states. We have decided to call it a remix, because under this process the old is often presented in a new getup to attract and excite the common people, and the state lockdown here has been a genuine remix with continuous tweaking to make it more and more user-friendly for the larger interests of the common people of West Bengal, particularly the state capital of Kolkata.


Yes, peoples’ interests. Nothing moves or gets implemented here that happens to adversely affect the prospects of the people in their easy and smooth going lifestyle—let it be their financial interests or social or cultural. It is extremely difficult here to increase local train, metro or bus fares, even when these become inevitable, because this would increase the cost of living in a significant way for the common people, and it has been seen that government after government avoided, as far as possible, taking the risks of going against the interests of their citizens. Similarly, posh or even moderately comfortable and convenient public restaurants/bars/eating joints are extremely rare here, because once modern comforts are provided the prices will have to be increased which would severely affect the footfalls; and therefore, you’d find here only street-side food or tea stalls, tented eating places and makeshift eating joints with almost no seating arrangements. I had written about my predicament on various occasions in this city when I was desperate to find a place to seat and take my food in relative comfort. However, my determination of ‘No Eating Standing’ only proved to be my greatest detriment.


Perhaps the renaissance of Indian literature that primarily started here during the British period made the people here highly educated, liberal and very conscious of their rights—political, social and intellectual, and the long rule of the Left for seven consecutive terms from 1977 to 2011 made them socialistic and believers of equal right and justice in society. Thanks to all these the state and its city of joy remained a peoples’ land of for the people, of the people and by the people. The latest example is there for all to behold: the people here thwarting the mightiest of political parties from grabbing political power here as the strategy and policies of that party never suited the politically conscious people here. Of course, in a modern perspective such people-centric policies do affect the development process adversely and this has indeed harmed the state. However, this is not the forum to discuss this issue and we must return to our basic subject—the lockdown syndrome here.


Lockdown was finally announced in West Bengal on the 15th of May 2021 with first phase starting 16th to 30th May. It looked to be quite strict: only essential local markets to be open for just 3 hours during 7-10am, non-essential shops not to open anytime of the day and people not allowed loitering around in the streets after 9 pm, apart from all other closures of malls, cinema halls and so on. And then the tweaks: all sweet shops to remain open 10 am-5 pm; all Saree and jewellery shops to function from 12 noon to 3 pm; and no supervision about non-essential shops like paan-cigarette shops or street-side tea/snack stalls also opening during the 7-10 am window. The state government does have sound economical considerations: small traders and vendors cannot be allowed to suffer like they did in the national lockdown; sweet-making is arguably the biggest industry in Bengal employing a huge population and common people here cannot exist without what they consider items with even medicinal values; similarly, Saree and ornaments are the traditional requirements of the people, apart from the huge numbers employed in these trades too.


As expected, the lockdown was extended till 15th June. Although the basic windows of various openings were maintained the state government threw open one more avenue: all non-essential shops that were not allowed to open during the first phase could now function during 12 noon to 3 pm slot. The catch in this is that it is kept ambiguous if the shops functioning between 7 to 10 am could get one more business chunk in the new slot. Thanks to this ambiguity, almost all the shops are now doing effective business from 7 am to 3 pm with some, like sweet shops, even extending till 8 pm as there is not enough police intervention.  


As far as the Lives Vs Livelihood and the economy debates go the state government seems to be sticking to the peoples’ interests even under extraordinary circumstances; it is difficult to choose the right from wrong here. However, risks are being taken; there is no doubt about that. Fortunately, West Bengal was spared from an explosion of infections during the first wave and in the second wave too so far so good. When the first lockdown was imposed here there were around 19000 daily infections (nearly 4000 in Kolkata) and about 150 daily deaths; since the lockdown the figures have come down to around 5000 (less than 1000 in Kolkata) and less than 100 respectively. We hope the optimism and the spirit of the people hold good eliminating the virus altogether in near future as there seems to be little prospect of one more extension of the lockdown beyond 15th June.


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