A suitable 2021 final would be the collective hope that we will never see a year like this again.
We have seen a lot of sadness this year. The Covid-19, which entered our lives last year, has brought much of humanity to its knees this year. Millions of people have been infected even as the virus takes on new avatars, and many have died from its ravages. So far, more than 270 million people have been infected worldwide. Among them, more than 5.4 million died. In India, more than 480,000 people have died. India is among the top five countries that have lost the most people to the virus.
Across India, people have been forced to take out loans to cover the costs of treating the pandemic and other illnesses. Between May and August, 238,000 people took out loans of about ??4,200 crore from the banks for this. And that’s the figure for just four months.
However, the good news is that the Union and state governments have fought head-on against the pandemic. They assured that a total of 1.32 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered so far, giving people some breathing space from the virus.
The pandemic has brought in its wake increasing economic inequalities across the world. In India, 57% of the country’s total income went to the richest 10%. As a result of this inequitable distribution of wealth, 270 million people who passed above the poverty line in 2014 fell below it. Now, with the Omicron variant upon us, and still not enough information about its effects, society and government cannot let their guard down.
Besides the virus, India and China have been stuck at a stalemate since Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley after a breach by the People’s Liberation Army. In 2021, there were no casualties on this front, but the threat is far from over. A situation which adds to the concerns of India, already exacerbated by the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan.
Tensions between India and Pakistan did not escalate into a major conflict in 2021, but shelling and attacks across the border cost us at least 35 troops. Drones from Pakistan have also become a source of concern. These gave a boost to terrorist activities in Kashmir and resulted in the deaths of at least 40 people. It is hardly comforting that, thanks to the efforts of the Home Office and the state government, around 100 terrorists have been killed. These include those who cruelly targeted innocent minorities. The violence still continues. There was gunfire in a van full of police officers in Srinagar on the night of December 13, and such incidents are expected to continue.
If 2021 has proven anything, it’s that the concept of a global village has become redundant. The vaccine nationalism of richer countries has made the battle against the virus all the more difficult for poor countries. They will have to dig in the long term if they are to become self-reliant on vaccines.
The start of construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya last year and the inauguration of the Vishwanath Dham Complex in Varanasi this month reflect the changing attitudes of the establishment in India. Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has now raised Mathura’s issue. Is it just part of the next election or something more?
December 8 brought a huge tragedy with India’s first Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat along with 12 others perishing in a helicopter crash. He had started the process of making India’s defense forces more coordinated and effective in accordance with the needs of the time.
The other terrible tragedy was the death at the agricultural protest site in Lakhimpur Kheri. Despite this and other blows, the farmers did not lose sight of their goals – and the victory was ultimately theirs. This year will be remembered as a pivotal year in the struggle of farmers.
But this year will also be remembered with joy for the unprecedented performances of our athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. This is India’s best performance in the past four decades with seven medals, including gold from javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, Ravi Dahiya, and silver from Mirabai Chanu, PV Sindhu, Bajrang Punia, the bronze medals of Lovlina Borgohain and that of the hockey team. India won a medal in hockey after 41 years.
The victory of Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India, as the first female vice president of the United States was a unique achievement for many reasons. India has made an important mark in global companies like Google, Microsoft and Twitter, and an inspiration to the younger generation.
As the year draws to a close, we can only hope that the next one will bring hope and positive change. We wish all of our readers a Happy New Year.
Shashi Shekhar is Editor-in-Chief, Hindustan
Opinions expressed are personal