India is Battling a Major Health Crisis. Where are its Elites? | Opinion

One of my friends, a lawyer, passed away recently in Hyderabad, India. He was fit and healthy, but tragically, his body was unable to fend off COVID-19. He leaves behind a grieving family who will be forced to bear an enormous financial burden imposed by the private hospital where he was employed and treated before his death.

The world has seen images from cities like Delhi of crematoriums that have been overwhelmed with the bodies of COVID-19 victims. Funeral pyres have been lit in the streets. Our hospital infrastructure has collapsed and countless individuals and families are left hopeless and helpless.

Amid the greatest health crisis in India's history, a news story made international headlines: Australian cricketer Pat Cummins, who plays for a team in the Indian Premier League (IPL), donated $50,000 to the prime minister's care fund for India's COVID-19 relief.

India's own cricketers have remained silent in the face of our national tragedy.

An anonymous official from the IPL, which is worth millions of dollars, recently claimed, "It's probably more important now to hold IPL, when there is so much negativity around. ... The league generates considerable money for the economy. It has to be seen from that context too. How does stopping IPL help?"

This official's words are a slap in the face to the people of India. There is not a single Indian who has not been affected by the pandemic, whether through personal suffering or that of a friend, neighbor, relative or coworker.

Since the release of that statement, the IPL has been suspended and the Tata Group has announced that they will provide medical supplies and necessities such as oxygen units and beds to hospitals in need. The core issue is not corporate response but the personal wealth of these billionaires, many of whom are leaving India, completely neglecting the country they call home.

With the exception of Indian billionaire Azim Premji, whose immense wealth will be left in a foundation for the betterment of those in need, many of the rich and famous in India engage in token social welfare schemes and ensure their social involvement is advertised.

India
Patients breathe with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside in Ghaziabad on May 2, 2021. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Cricket, Bollywood and business makes for a heady mix as far as IPL is concerned. Because of this conglomerate, India's cricketing board is the richest board in the sport. Why is the current IPL income not designated to fight COVID-19? And why are Indian cricketers not contributing to our national emergency?

In the last 25 years, the cricketing board has failed to communicate empathy in any capacity as they and their contemporaries become millionaires and billionaires. The lack of an accompanying philanthropic and social conscience in the wake of the rise of India's elites is shameful.

As Indians, we must accept the fact that our current health care system is broken and that universal health care is a dream, for now. We must acknowledge that the government alone cannot address our massive need for the development of a world class community health infrastructure—and not just specialty hospitals.

While we have seen ordinary people reach out to neighbors, friends and strangers across religious and ethnic lines, those Indians who have "made it big" by becoming entertainers and athletes sadly have little to show in terms of meaningful philanthropy and advocacy.

Access to simple things like rapid tests and vaccine information is still not a reality for a majority of Indians. Meanwhile, the exploitative black market for medications is thriving as patients and health care workers are compelled to purchase the vaccines however possible.

We live in an interdependent world and the COVID-19 pandemic exposed our interdependence on many fronts. The Indian government is accepting foreign aid for COVID-19 relief but Indian NGOs should also be permitted to receive aid for their work, especially in the areas of health and education. We are forced to wait for a few members of India's top 1 percent to announce that they are giving the first billion dollars to help build India's health infrastructure.

Now is the time for the rich and famous to invest their wealth into responding to this crisis and then to continue by helping develop a health infrastructure that reaches every village in India. The government needs to reverse its crackdown on NGOs, including religious NGOs, who were doing social work and receiving foreign funds to help alleviate the hurting.

This all leaves us with a bigger question to answer: Why is it that we are not developing a robust national social conscience that compels us to act in the face of suffering? Perhaps we have forgotten that if we are prospering it is because of the grace of God, and that when we are blessed in life, we must bless others.

Rev. Joseph D'Souza is an internationally renowned human and civil rights activist. He is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.