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What India can learn from the HIV crisis about protecting children who have lost parents to Covid-19


The story of Jyoti Kumari Paswan is a parable of our times. At the height of the migrant crisis during the first wave of Covid-19 last year, 13 year-old Jyoti became a global icon of hope and humanity when she cycled over 1,200 kms between Gurugram in Haryana and Darbhanga in Bihar with her ailing and injured father – a migrant labourer – riding pillion.

Jyoti’s heroic journey and heart-rending act of service were eulogised by the national and international media, politicians and NGOs, bringing monetary rewards and laurels for her and her family. Being a young Dalit girl, Jyoti’s actions appeared to defy her socio-economic, gender and caste identities and enshrined her story in exceptional terms.

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Yet, I believe, to truly decipher the wider social significance and nuances of Jyoti’s life – and the lives of countless other young children egregiously impacted by the current pandemic – we first must invert the terms of reference from the extraordinary to the ordinary.

What concerns me here are the consequences of scripting children’s audacious efforts of caring for those around them in moments of public health emergencies as singular and decontextualised acts of exception; actions, which in their framings as “exceptional”’ stand apart from, if not at odds with, the commonly…

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