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A Pandemic Year for Women: For those with a history of confinement, the lockdown was 'better' than what came before

Maumil Mehraj
·6-min read

EDITOR'S NOTE: A UN report from September 2020 on the economic toll of COVID-19 on women, notes that "the impacts of crises are never gender-neutral". The report delves into the many ways women have been disproportionately affected, financially, by the ongoing pandemic: For instance, industries that predominantly employ women have been worst-affected; women's paid labour and women-run businesses are hardest hit, and the gender poverty gap is projected to widen.

The impacts of the crisis, however, go far beyond the economic. News stories and surveys have looked at how women are bearing the brunt of childcare and household chores while they work full-time remotely. Isolation and confinement have meant that cases of violence against women are on the rise.

While the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdowns have been especially hard on women, there are also many stories of resilience, courage and hope that have emerged in these times.

On International Women's Day 2021, we launched a series called >'A Pandemic Year for Women'. These essays have been written by women with varying experiences of the past year, who rose to the challenges of being mothers, artists, healthcare workers, community outreach professionals and entrepreneurs, students, and above all €" individuals trying to make their way through an unprecedented time.

These first-hand accounts do not look away from the costs of the crisis, but they look beyond too: to the future, to what is possible, to what still remains to be (and must be) done.

Read the essays here on Firstpost, in >'A Pandemic Year for Women'.

***

"How are spring and autumn so different?" M asks. It takes me by surprise, and I excuse myself from the reverie I was indulging in: The huntsman had only begun to lift the stake to my heart when M dropped the question, as if it dropped from the sky. I thought for a second and said the words for the first time as if I had memorised it like a song from my childhood.

"Spring means going out of your house, chasing after the summer; autumn makes you go back in." But in fact, when the lockdown officially started, we were already going into spring. It was our time to explore, before we were forced back in. As a student from Kashmir who, in her school days, due to necessary protestations, hardly ever got to experience a full academic year, I found a new world at the University of Delhi. There was ever so much that an entire year free of disruptions could offer, the choices took me by surprise €" classes, events, talks, associations, such ordinary joys became the best times of my life. For the first time in a long time, I was excited. The proverbial boulder did not seem like a boulder anymore, I looked forward to the next day and what it would bring. And too soon, I was robbed of that. I had come home for a week, and that week is now yet to end, and so began another round of my house-arrest.

We adjusted better than almost everyone else to the newfound lockdown, it was only slightly different than the usual €" we are yet to arrive at a definition of usual. I took a cynical pleasure in the knowledge that now the world would live like us, only a much better version of it. Pupphi and I wondered out loud how wonderful it was to have the internet work while we were forced indoors €" even if it was a stunted connection (the smallness of our contentment very unsettling). It was sad, too, to see how much people complained, but there was also an intense realisation of how different our realities were. We went on, dragging, hoping, wishing for a reversal. A reversal that is yet to come. But at some point €" we forgot to keep track of when it happened €" we gave up hope. Not in the sense that there was mourning for the hope lost. Rather, the thankful unburdening of the loss of hope €" which left like a love that refuses to die and gave us time to explore the space that we now had, for better or for worse.

***

"Maumil, the results are out," AS texts me moments before I was to lose her. I refresh hopelessly the telling DU website, its white and purple long gone to me, now a mix of panic and frustration. A dinosaur jumps in mockery and reminds me of my own primitiveness; I play along, the sorry tune of not knowing similarly guiding my fingers and the dinosaur's race. My phone lights up, a welcome call from AS: "7.89. I think you scored the highest." It was only later that I read the many messages of congratulations, like flowers at an obituary €" too little, too late.

I joined lectures online like everybody else, always a little late to class, always too late to answer, and then, unlike everybody else, I gave up. It was shameful having to explain myself to everybody, a cry for pity: have mercy! "All of us have internet problems," the professor from Delhi says, oblivious, living in her bubble of privilege. That only makes my resignation worse. I do not stop studying, I only stop showing up online, always wondering if it matters at all, if work without recognition ever matters €" but that's the thing, nobody knows of its existence to critique it. We prevail.

I know that I am safe at home, despite the cruelty of the times. I would have been in the UK to start a new course, but the pandemic had its way, again. And after an early, cursed, capitalised introduction of the rich man's* blessing, I was granted access to time-zones I thought imaginary. Here I was at 2.16 am, virtually sharing a room with strangers, learning without the fear of taking a taxi back home in the dark, without fear of the night itself.

Those lectures were made possible only in this circumstance, and they were also made safer. I fear that this safety that I felt personally will be disrupted once we open up again, and so will this accessibility. 2 am will no longer ask for me. It will prefer a person, a woman in flesh and blood, someone tangible to teach or torment. The person in me might not have yet made sense of the last year, but the woman in me feels going indoors was a benediction.

Given our history of confinement €" be it of spaces, ideas, or opportunities €" this fared better than anything witnessed before. But it can't be said that the world went into lockdown together when people's realities were worlds apart. While for some this time may have been marked by a sense of temporary safety, some still find themselves in the midst of oppressive restrictions. But in the larger scheme of things, the crumbs that were made available to me did allow a prospect of furtherance.

*The Reliance Jio Fiber Wi-Fi, which came early to where I live, and my internet worked well after that.

Also See: Women's Day 2021: Women write about their experiences in an unprecedented year of the pandemic

A Pandemic Year for Women: Notes on negotiating the coronavirus crisis as a healthcare worker

A Pandemic Year for Women: For an expectant mother, a fraught but life-affirming experience

Read more on Arts & Culture by Firstpost.