COVID lockdowns aren’t all bad news

Photo by Sanju Chand

Prema Thakur, an official for the Champawat district in India, teaches Pratap Singh Bora, a 56-year-old migrant laborer from Nepal, how to write his name in Hindi.

In times of world crisis people are often starved for good news. We seek out good news, which seems harder and harder to come by.

Saturday, April 25, NPR’s Goats and Soda published a feel good story in the midst of its crisis coverage. Sushmita Pathak reports on issues in India for NPR, her latest article featured a 56-year-old man who learned how to write his name thanks to the lockdown.

“All his life, 56-year-old Pratap Singh Bora has been sticking his thumb in ink to sign documents,” Pathak begins. He learned to write his name in Hindi while stuck in India.

Bora is from Nepal but he works in India. Like many migrant workers he got stuck on the Indian side of the border when the country announced its three week lockdown (which has since been extended to May 3).

Indian authorities rushed to provide for poor and vulnerable people and has set up more than 20,000 relief camps to provide food and shelter.

Ten of these camps, in Uttarakhand’s Champawat district, are running literacy programs for illiterate migrant workers. The programs serve some 200 workers. (Uttarakhand is one of India’s 29 states.)

“[Bora] came to India nearly two decades ago to find work and usually goes back home once to twice a year to visit his family,” Pathak said.

Pathak talked to a chief education officer, a teacher of the literacy program, a professor from Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research and, of course, migrant workers in the program.

According to one of her sources, India has more than one-third of the world’s illiterate adults.

Pathak praises the camps for engaging the workers and giving them something to do while they are stuck in lockdown, but she acknowledges that it is not possible to do that everywhere.

“Such shelters in many parts of India lack basic sanitation let alone learning opportunities for their inhabitants,” she wrote.

I liked this article because it sheds light on a literacy issue that poor adults face in India and the surrounding areas. It had the effect of watching cute cat videos but with the added benefit of being educational.