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

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COVID-19 and Multiple Inequalities

The Case of a Coastal Community in Kerala

Despite the overall achievements, Kerala’s handling of its first case of community transmission in the coastal village of Poonthura came under severe criticism. In this article, the potential pathways to the resistance raised by the fisherfolk in Poonthura are explored, thereby placing their responses as historically and politically embedded ones.

The authors would like to express their gratitude and appreciation to Rakhal Gaitonde, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, without whom this article would not have taken shape. His willingness to share his time and valuable suggestions in improving the article is greatly appreciated. The authors would also like to thank the Coastal Students’ Cultural Forum, a student group from the fishing community in Thiruvananthapuram, for their valuable contributions. The experiences that they shared with the authors greatly enriched their understanding of the coastal community and resulted in the conceptualisation of this article.

Kerala has long been a favourite among development economists and scholars for the important lessons it holds. It has improved its position in the Human Development Index rankings, achieved a high female education status, and implemented decentralised planning and governance consistently over the years (Jeffrey 2016). As expected, it has also received praise for its overall health system preparednessnot only for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic but also for its recent efforts at early detection and containment of other zoonotic disease outbreaks. Its timely actions against the spread of COVID-19 and its decentralised planning and governance of control measures have also been highlighted in several papers (Isaac and Sadanadan 2020; Jalan and Sen 2020; Pinarayi 2020).

On 17 July 2020, the Kerala chief minister announced that there was community transmission of COVID-19 in Poonthura, a coastal fishing village under the administration of the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation.1 This was the first area in the country where community transmission was officially acknowledged by the government. While the government must be applauded for its openness to acknowledge community transmission in a context where states were under pressure to downplay the gravity of COVID-19, the way community transmission was handled in Poonthura raises questions about the apparently equitable governance and effective response of the states health system. In this article, we examine the events through an inclusivity lens. We consider the specific history and characteristics of the community to understand how socially and culturally insensitive COVID-19 containment strategies might have amplified pre-existing vulnerabilities, resulting in the Poonthura conflict.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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