Saturday, April 4, 2020

Confined, New Delhi breathes better

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One morning, the tumultuous and teeming capital woke up in silence assailed by the shrill song of birds. “Were they there before?” Asked the inhabitants, amazed by the wonder. Because following other capitals of the planet, it is the turn of New Delhi, a megalopolis with 20 million souls, to be wallowed in the motionless screed of apparent calm.

Gradually installed and enforced nationwide since Wednesday, the confinement of 1.3 billion Indians has been enforced for 21 days to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In the process, the incessant ballet of planes passed out, the factories closed, and the engines of the vehicles stopped. In the capital, one of the most polluted in the world, the health tragedy has created a miracle: the sky is clear and the air is breathable.

An explosive cocktail

Didactic and serious, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to convince the Indians of the imperative of extraordinary measures during a televised speech: ” There is no other way to escape the coronavirus “. He knows that his country is ill-equipped to contemplate the worst. While India accounts for just over 600 cases of Covid-19, the numbers remain underestimated, as testing for the virus is rare, and experts are concerned about the possibility of a time bomb. The Indian context is an explosive cocktail: high density of the population, hygienic deficiencies and weak hospital equipment. The Prime Minister’s speech sounded like a general alert.

Although constrained, the insatiable rhythm of cities has therefore died out. In New Delhi, the human crowds have disappeared. The rich hide in their spacious residences and the poor crowd in family in cramped rooms. In a country where social promiscuity reigns, they all need to learn the rules of hygiene and distancing. ” All the families here respect confinement, says Aditya Goel, a trader on the popular avenue of Chandni Chowk. Life first!

The city is unrecognizable

From affluent neighborhoods in the South to the heart of the old city, advancing on arteries is a crossing of the desert, marked out by police roadblocks. Monuments such as the India Gate and the Red Fort sit in striking solitude. A stray dog ​​puzzled over the intimidating alleyway of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace. The famous Connaught Place seems to have come out of a postcard from the last century, and its only occupants are swarms of pigeons lining the abandoned parking lots. The labyrinthine alleys of Old Delhi offer an unusual nudity. The city is unrecognizable. Time everywhere seems to have stopped.

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A semblance of animation exists in front of the rare stalls that have remained open for food supplies. Near the Jama Masjid mosque, the police chastise customers who crowd a grocery store. “One meter away! “, a policeman shouts in his loudspeaker. Playing with his stick, he forces the grocer to draw marks on the ground to materialize the concept of an orderly line and discipline the ignorant.

The tragic ghettoization of the poor

These working-class neighborhoods are firmly crisscrossed by the police, supported by the border security forces (BSF). “We teach people the rules of the curfew and gradually we will be more strict”, explains a paramilitary, who controls residents wishing to leave the neighborhood. If the strategy aims to contain the virus, it suggests the scenario of a tragic ghettoisation of poor neighborhoods if they were affected by the epidemic. Already, on some sidewalks sleep migrants who have been unable to reach their villages, the borders of Delhi have been sealed. For the poor India has millions, “The period will be difficult”, warned Narendra Modi. The capital of India, where the air is clean and the animals free, has closed in like a trap on its inhabitants.

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