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Gasping For Breath: Women Provide A Glimpse Into India’s COVID Disaster

Introduction by Tanvi Misra

In April, the trend line of COVID-19 cases reported in India started rising so steeply that it looked vertical.
Like elsewhere around the world, the pandemic has not been an equalizer in India. It has subjected women (cis- and trans) and non-binary people to even more precarity than they ordinarily face and compounded the discrimination towards marginalized religious, caste, and tribal groups. Urban women who work professional jobs have largely weathered the economic crisis. Domestic workers, street vendors, and day laborers in the same cities, however, have lost their livelihoods. The burden of caring and household work during successive lockdowns has also fallen disproportionately on women. .READ MORE
A photo of medical worker inserting a swab inside of a woman's mouth

Anantnag, Indian-Administered Kashmir: ‘I Have Children And I Fear To Go Near Them’

By Raihana Maqbool

Shaheena Jan walks along a rough road from her home to reach the main street that leads to the hospital, where she is working as a part-time sweeper in a government hospital in Shangus, Anantnag in South Kashmir.

A health worker wearing a PPE kit monitors an antigen test kit after collecting swabs of asymptomatic passengers arriving from other states at railway station in Pune, India on April 23, 2021 in (Photo by Pratham Gokhale/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Pune, Maharashtra: A Haze of Delirium and Rumors of a Medical Hoax

By Priya Mirchandani

The elderly lady stares unseeingly ahead, lying in her hospital bed in Pune’s leading private hospital. She knows she’s lucky to be in a room with an oxygenated bed, but she can’t help but wonder how many roommates she will continue to outstay in this heavily guarded COVID isolation wing.

A health worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Delhi government school in New Delhi, India on May 16, 2021. (Photo by Imtiyaz Khan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh: ‘Our Supervisors Tell Us Not to Take the Vaccine. They Tell us That the Injection Will Kill Us.’

By Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

Every morning, 40-year-old Mahalakshmi (not her real name) wakes up at 5 a.m. and quickly gets ready for work as a sanitation worker. She pulls on her uniform—a light blue knee-length cotton shirt—over a red and green synthetic saree.

A group of people sitting outside, well spaced out

‘It Is Like I Am Being Strangled’

By Sara Bardhan
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to batter India, states have imposed lockdown restrictions and curfews in an attempt to reduce the spread of the deadly virus. For transgender people across the country, the rules can mean being trapped in hostile homes and without access to the community, medical care, and mental-health services that they depend on for survival. 


New Delhi: ‘We Keep Our Pain Buried In Our Hearts To Serve People’

By Fahad Shah

Hours before her night shift at the hospital, when 32-year-old nurse Rakhi John received a call from her father she burst into tears. Her grandmother, who raised her since she was one, had succumbed to COVID-19 at her home in the south Indian state of Kerala.

Delhi Civil Defence (DCD) volunteers with accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers  conduct a door to door screening to raise awareness on the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on November 23, 2020. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP) (Photo by PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)

Uttar Pradesh: ‘Our First Duty Is To Save Lives’

By Sarita Santoshini

In Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, 55-year-old Gyanwati Devi quickly stops by the home of her supervisor in the evening to collect medicines. Earlier in the day, she visited 50 village households for a survey of people showing symptoms of illness, carefully noting down their names and advising them what to do.

Laborers work at a road construction site amidst the coronavirus pandemic in Hyderabad, India on April 28, 2021.  (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

Namakkal, Tamil Nadu: ‘When Will This End?’

By Dharani Thangavelu

Devi has been on the phone all morning. She’s called contractors, masons and friends to see if they have work for her tomorrow. But so far, no luck. Tomorrow she will try again.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 3: A health worker administers a shot of Covid-19 vaccine,  Today Start the age group of 18 to 44 vaccination Drive at a Govt School Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, West Vinod Nagar, Patpatganj   on May 3, 2021 in New Delhi, India.  Kicking off the COVID-19 vaccination drive in Delhi, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia visited Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, West Vinod Nagar, where 5 sites have been set up for citizens to get COVID-19 vaccines starting today for individuals aged 18-45 years. Deputy Chief Minister Shri Manish Sisodia said, Delhi Government has received 4.5 lakh vaccination doses until now, on the basis of which 301 vaccination centres have been made in 76 schools across Delhi, vaccinating 45,100 citizens.    ( Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Goa: ‘Even If We Register, I Don’t Think There Are Enough Vaccines To Go Around’

By Chryselle D’Silva Dias

For Diana*, it’s déjà vu all over again. After a 3-day partial lockdown, the state is back to business with “restrictions.” Casinos are closed until May 10, hotels remain open as there is no ban on tourists and restaurants are open with 50% seating capacity or for takeaways only.

A view inside Rajasthan University of Health Sciences Hospital where the ground floor lobby and corridors have been converted to into a ward with oxygen beds for COVID-19 patients on April 30, 2021 in Jaipur, India.  (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Gangyasar, Rajasthan: ‘I Have Been Battling Renal Failure, so I Thought This Was Easy’

By Sonal Kellogg

Taramani Devi, 43, has been infected with coronavirus three times—and recovered from it three times—while battling kidney failure. The last time she was infected COVID-19, it was two days after she had undergone a surgery for a kidney transplant, when her husband Gangadhar Singh donated a kidney to his wife.

A photo of three Indian women selling fish

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir: ‘I Cannot Afford To Sit At Home Even For A Day’

By Raihana Maqbool

Wearing a Kashmiri pheran and a white scarf wrapped on her head, Fazi Begum, calls out customers loudly to buy fish from her so that she can sell all her stock before dusk.

JAIPUR, INDIA - MARCH 22: An elderly woman waits to give her swab sample for Covid-19 test, at Government Kanwatiya hospital, on March 22, 2021 in Jaipur, India. (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

‘I Once Fell Unconscious Due To The Stress. I Had To Do It All On My Own.’

By Nayanika Guha

Akanksha*, 22, a final-year law student from Tamil Nadu, says she was always “on call” at home while taking care of her father for two months while he recovered from COVID-19 in June and July last year.

A weoman holds a box of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat Covid-19 coroanavirus symptoms, purchased from government dispensary in Chennai on April 27, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

New Delhi: ‘ In A Situation Of Life Or Death, This Was My Only Option.’

By Anika Nayak

Aditi, 37, bought Remdesivir, an antiviral medication currently authorized for COVID-19 treatment in India, from the black market in Delhi for her father who has been on a ventilator in the ICU for four days.

A health worker wearing collects a swab sample of a pregnant woman at a free COVID-19 testing center at Medchal Malkajgiri district on the outskirts of Hyderabad on August 24, 2020. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

Garbhe, Madhya Pradesh: ‘My Wife Was So Brave. She Looked At Me And Said There’s No Need To Worry Now.’

By Varsha Bansal

On the afternoon of April 6, Pramila Devi Kol, 26, went into labor. Her husband, Sajjan Kumar Kol, dialed the emergency helpline 108 to call an ambulance to get her to the hospital in time for the delivery.

A board indicates 'NIL' vacant beds at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP), one of the largest facilities for coronavirus disease patients, in New Delhi on April 28, 2021. India touched another grim milestone as the overall deaths in the pandemic crossed the 2-lakh mark. Over 3.6 lakh new cases were reported in the last 24 hours in yet another single-day record. (Photo by Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

New Delhi: ‘That 22-Year-Old Priya on Instagram’

By Riddhi Dastidar

On April 18, as India’s national capital was running out of hospital beds, and Twitter was flooded with #SOSDelhi tweets that would soon become familiar, college freshman Anuradha Malik, 18, saw an Instagram story linking to a volunteer form. The next day, as Delhi went into lockdown again, she was added to a Whatsapp group.

Workers are seen making coffins at a facility amid Covid-19 coronavirus in Hyderabad on April 28, 2021. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

Rishikesh, Uttarakhand: ‘You Keep Questioning Yourself’

By Romita Saluja
Surbhi Das began to feel that India was losing control of COVID earlier this month when seven of her colleagues and three patients tested positive for the virus. She worked in the COVID ward of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh for three months last year but, Das says, the situation at the hospital is 10 times more severe now.

Panaji, Goa_ ‘They Haven’t Called Me Back’ (Photo by Chryselle D'Silva Dias for The Fuller Project)

Panaji, Goa: ‘They Haven’t Called Me Back’

By Chryselle D’Silva Dias

At the Panjim Market in Goa, local vendors like Tulsi, 55, seem unconcerned about the second wave. Sitting on an elevated platform under the soaring roof of the market, she’s surrounded by piles of mangoes and steel cups full of shiny black local berries.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 22:  A woman holds onto her personal oxygen cylinder at LNJP Hospital,  on April 22, 2021 in New Delhi, India. Delhi logged 26,219 fresh Covid-19 cases and 306 deaths due to the Covid on Thursday amid a growing clamour for oxygen and hospital beds in the city. The national capital's cumulative tally rose to 9,56,348 and the death toll stood at 13,193, according to health bulletin. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Nagpur, Maharashtra: ‘We Are Carrying A Massive Guilt’

By Sarita Santoshini

Preeti Namjoshi, a 26-year-old resident doctor in the final days of her three-year masters’ degree in internal medicine, was supposed to be preparing for final exams right now. Instead she finds herself struggling to assist with the surging number of people sick and dying from COVID-19 at Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur.

A migrant worker carries a bottle of water while she waits to board a train to her hometown before new restrictions will be imposed to control the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Chennai on April 19, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Chennai, Tamil Nadu: ‘What Has to Happen Will Happen’

By Mahima Jain

It’s noon and Asha Mutha, 53, has just finished cooking lunch. She wipes the sweat off her forehead, pushes the thick frames of her spectacles up the bridge of her nose, and tucks the pink viscose sari around her hip.

Editor’s Note: This feature is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 disaster in India and will be continually updated.


by Sara Bardhan
May 10, 2021
Editor’s Note: This feature is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, Gasping For Breath: Women Provide A Glimpse Into India’s COVID Disaster. Read the full series here.

by Fahad Shah
May 6, 2021
Editor’s Note: This feature is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, Gasping For Breath: Women Provide A Glimpse Into India’s COVID Disaster. Read the full series here.

by Sarita Santoshini
May 5, 2021
Editor’s Note: This feature is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, Gasping For Breath: Women Provide A Glimpse Into India’s COVID Disaster. Read the full series here.

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