The Policy Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Analysing Implications for Indigenous Peoples in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Harpreet Kaur | 2022


In this report, I examine the impacts of the pandemic and policy responses to it, focussing on Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which spans Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. The analysis reveals that the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns produced new forms of exclusions. It widened existing socio-economic fissures and brought into sharp relief social security systems which were already strained. For example, a widening of the existing digital divide that excluded Adivasi students from online education and homogenous policy interventions that often reproduce inequities based on caste, class, livelihoods, and gender. Policy interventions have, to some extent, engaged with the multiple risks and impacts COVID-19 placed on the poor and marginalised, but few of them attend to the structural inequities of IPs or speak to their differential experiences and vulnerabilities. By privileging the physical health aspects of the pandemic over socio-cultural and economic impacts, the policy response to COVID excluded and further marginalized vulnerable communities. The IP community’s socio-economic marginalisation as well as the developmental state’s inattention to social protection for these forest-dependent communities, has meant that the impacts of the pandemic have been especially crippling and acute for IPs in India.