In mid-March, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India began to rise sharply, starting with Holi and then followed by Kumbh Mela, two of the country’s largest religious festivals. By the end of April, the confirmed cases reached 400,000 per day. The deadly second wave of COVID-19 was underway. Along with the non-stop cremations of the dead, the situation still remains dire with hospitals running out of oxygen and beds. However, university students in India are trying to find ways to ease the situation.
“It’s a critical time in India. I would say everyone is stressed out because someone they know has or had COVID-19,” said Agrim Jain, a student at the Indian School of Design & Innovation. “We are losing young people due to the virus as well. Lockdown got lifted in the middle, but due to the negligence of people and the government, COVID-19 cases have increased again. It is worse, and we see no end to the cases and the lockdown.”
COVID-19 has significantly changed college life in India. It has been over a year since everything went online. Many universities have postponed starting school as more students are catching COVID-19 and are unable to attend classes. Universities in other countries, including South Korea, havebegun to offer on-campus courses for subjects that require practice. In India, however, this is not an option.
“Every class is online, no matter what subject it is,” Agrim said. “If there is something practical we have to do, we have to prepare materials at home. Since I’m in design college, we have to find substitutes for materials or innovate. It’s a new experience, but things would have been easier if we had tools and facilities provided by the college.”
Some of these restrictions on students and accessing relevant university resources have resulted in protests led by students demanding that universities reopen, but that was before the deadly second wave.
“There were several huge demonstrations led by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students who wanted the campus to be open,” said Sohn Juik, a student at JNU. “However, now they agree with the policy. In fact, many staff or family members related to the university passed away because of the virus. Even one of my professors is recovering from COVID-19.”
Nevertheless, students are finding ways to overcome the situation together. Students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) have developed a web portal that provides information about hospital bed availability, medicines, and ambulances. The visitors can make updates to the information as well. Another student at IIT has developed an eco- friendly smokeless cremation cart based on wick stove technology to reduce the amount of smoke coming from the cremation pyres.
Students are also emotionally supporting each other by gathering online. This is especially important for students like Agrim, who says peer feedback for each other's work is very crucial in a design college.
Universities are also pulling their weight by contributing to the fight against COVID-19. Just like the student portals, they provide information regarding life-saving matters such as vaccines and upload blog posts advising students on how to stay safe or take action if needed. Some universities even donate the wood to crematoriums because people cannot afford to buy wood to cremate their loved ones.
“I hope university students in Korea learn about the significant impact of ignorance on disinfection,”Sohn said. “If people had paid more attention to disinfection, this amount of sacrifice would not have happened.”
Agrim says along with spreading awareness of what is happening in India, it is also important to extend moral and emotional support for the country.
“Everyone in India is affected by COVID-19 one way or another to the extent of losing their loved ones,” Agrim said. “If you have friends in India, keep checking on them.”