The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the expense of countless innocent lives, has ruthlessly exposed that India’s healthcare system is in shambles. Doctors, along with the medical staff, are exhausted. Consequently, there are hardly any provisions for on-sight or tele- consultations. Getting tested is extremely difficult; testing centres all over the country have either halted collecting samples or are taking more than 4-5 days to process the results. Moreover, India’s latest, ghoulish unit of currency is oxygen. The country’s entire population is at the mercy of India’s established lawyers, progressive journalists, and students, amplifying calls for both oxygen and hospital beds on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Medicines as standard as paracetamol, are as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack. The people who can get an ordinary bed in the hospital are deemed ‘lucky’ and ‘luckier’ if they can secure an ICU/Ventilator bed with an uninterrupted supply of oxygen.
Death is omnipresent – people are dying on the roads, in the passages of the hospitals and in their own abodes. It has become an unfortunate normalcy. Without a Covid-Positive report and a doctor’s prescription, hospitals are not admitting people, and pharmacies are not providing medicines. As of May 22, the official death toll of the country is 295,047. However, the number of funerals carried out according to the Covid-protocol at crematoriums and burial grounds indicate a death toll at least 10-20 times higher than what the government has officially announced. As a result, crematoriums are running out of space for the deceased; parks and parking lots have been turned into make-shift crematoriums.
Clearly, India is in a dire situation at the moment. The Indian cohort of international students, both onshore and offshore, needs the support of the University now more than ever. But is the University doing much, if anything at all, for these students?
On the one hand, offshore Indian students, stranded and abandoned since 2020, are engaged in a constant battle, they are consistently fighting for their lives, hoping that they and their families make it out alive. However, battles are inherently and unfortunately synonymous with loss – many students have lost their loved ones to COVID-19. And yet, many are still paying an extremely high amount of fee to study online – which indeed does not come without its own challenges – with the dreams of a brighter future ahead. Conversely, many are dropping out or deferring their degrees owing to lack of funds.
On the other hand, onshore Indian students are worried sick for the wellbeing of their families in India, are left feeling completely helpless and unfortunately fatalistic. Adding on to the emotional stress and trauma is the financial pressure to sustain themselves in Sydney- a substantial amount of onshore Indian students are struggling to make their ends meet, especially if they rely upon financial support from their families in India. After all, not all Indian families can maintain a regular outflow of money when the breadwinners are being forced to sit at home to keep themselves from dying.
Can a mere ‘peer-support program’ really alleviate the suffering of these students?
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the reality, along with the priorities of our neoliberal university – profit trumps everything, even suffering and worse, death. Even amidst the wrath of the pandemic, Indian students are being treated as cash cows – they have been given absolutely no financial support in the form of fee discounts or fee rebates; not even an extension in case they are unable to pay their fee on time.
Further to this, owing to the unequal support extended by the university, this cash cow treatment is further intensified for the Indian students – while Indian students received a standardised email acknowledging their plight, Chinese students, back in 2020, received fee discounts. Additionally, the university also made a separate helpline for Chinese students stuck offshore, while in the case of Indian students, it simply compiled the list of pre-existing helpline numbers accessible to every student. Indeed, the university’s response to the suffering of Indian students is shocking – Chinese students do constitute the largest chunk of international students, but Indian students too make up the second largest cohort of international students. Then why is it that one international student community was actively enabled in the face of adversity, while the other is being forced to deal with rather harrowing circumstances without any real moral or financial support?
It must be noted that my argument here is not one that aims to criticise the university for extending essential support to Chinese students when they needed it, instead it is one that aims to foster inclusion and equality – the university must treat its Indian students, the way it treats its Chinese students.
Suffering is indiscriminate, the university ought to be too.