ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Of Denial and Data

Deaths Due to India’s COVID-19 National Lockdown

A national lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020. This saw a humanitarian crisis unfold, that included deaths directly caused by the lockdown. The Indian government has been in denial about these deaths. In this article, we attempt to gather data on the human costs of the lockdown. Using media reports, we collected data on these deaths that highlights the devasting consequences of a harsh and sudden lockdown on the vulnerable sections, and underscores the need for strong social security efforts.


We are grateful to Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera, and Aashish Gupta for helpful comments. All errors are our own. We would like to acknowledge and thank similar data collection efforts particularly by journalist Rachel Chitra, writer/columnist Pooja Priyamvada, community medicine expert Dr P K Tyagi as well as work done on “The Impact of Covid-19 Policies in India” ( We also thank @Roadscholarz (, a group of freelance scholars and student volunteers, for their guidance and Aryan Goyal for assistance in this work.


March 2021 marked one year since the union government imposed a lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some states had started restricting economic activities and movement earlier, the union government announced a national lockdown on 23 March 2020. A country of 1.3 billion people was given a four-hour notice to brace itself for a complete lockdown. What unfolded was a humanitarian crisis that lasted many months, and whose effects continue to reverberate. One of the clearest costs of this severe crisis were the deaths caused by the lockdown.

As soon as the countrywide lockdown began, reports of deaths due to exhaustion from walking and road accidents began to appear in the media. These were soon joined by reports of deaths owing to denial or lack of medical care, and suicides due to fear, restrictions imposed, and alcohol withdrawal. As the lockdown continued, reports of deaths caused by financial distress and starvation increased. In May (the second month of the lockdown), reports of deaths from economic hardship and unemployment spiked, and by June, reports of deaths in Shramik special trains (that were started to ferry stranded workers and others) and quarantine centres (set up to support the migrants) started growing. Together, these trends highlight that as the duration of the lockdown increased, the crisis it caused expanded and intensified.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

INR 59

(Readers in India)

$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.