There is little that is said or written about the social implications of Covid-19. Some recent reports throw light on this.

The recent Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) revealed two facts. One, only a little under a third of India’s schoolchildren are accessing online education—the only means available to students with schools shut down for the last seven months. Second, even fewer are able to take live online classes. And this despite most families having access to smartphones.

In short, writes Anil Padmanabhan (managing editor of Mint), the virus “has brutally exposed the deep digital divide in the country—something we have always known but rarely acknowledged. It goes without saying that schooling interruptions reduce learning opportunities. Worse the have-nots have very little access to even this limited opportunity to learn.

“The resulting widespread loss of human capital accumulation will cause more damage than the economic scars being caused by permanent loss of output. In India it will worsen already widening social and economic inequalities and in most instances in an irreversible manner.”

Gender inequality: This was also highlighted in the annual inequality report put out by Oxfam India last week. This year’s theme is on the issue of gender inequality and was compiled much before the pandemic struck. “One of the most tenacious and pervasive causes of social inequality is gender. The deeply naturalized acceptance that gender has across cultures can make it impervious to struggles against inequality," the report argued before adding, “This is also why the design of this study on gender inequality and violence against women starts at the roots of the issue: social norms."

Burden on women: The burden of the economic and social consequences of Covid-19, falls upon women. In its latest prognosis the International Monetary Fund  that even before the pandemic struck, inequality, even in some emerging market economies like India, had worsened. So, writes Padmanabhan “it is a case of the situation going from bad to worse; which is why the challenge for public policy is that much greater.” And the IMF said as much in its latest update of the World Economic Outlook issued a fortnight ago.

“The pandemic is having particularly adverse effects on economically more vulnerable people, including younger workers and women," it said.

A related worry, says Padmanabhan “is that with schools which provided mid-day meals in India downing their shutters, the less privileged students will be denied a key source of nutrition. It had also served as an incentive, especially among families of first generation learners. Now all of this is at risk of being reversed.

The two reports released last week  thus, “reveal a lot about the additional burden on social and public policy posed by the rapidly spreading covid-19 virus. A daunting challenge, which if unaddressed will not only risk reversing the gains achieved in poverty alleviation, but also fundamentally skew the dynamics of inequality—which in turn risks overturning the prevailing social equilibrium with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

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