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A year of tragedies

The year that was 2021

Credit : Prathmesh Patil

For India and the world, the year 2021 came bearing several tragedies. Covid pandemic, natural disasters and conflicts took several lives in India as well as worldover.


Second COVID Wave

The second wave of Coronavirus pandemic in India which began in May this year did not just come with an unprecedented surge in infections, mostly owing to the Delta variant first found in the country. It also brought India’s health system crumbling down. More people needed to be hospitalised, several of them needed Oxygen support. However, everything right from hospital beds, medicines, medical Oxygen to cremation grounds fell short, which led to more deaths which could have possibly been avoided. Around 2.5 lakh people died in the second wave, close to 1 lakh more than in the first. Several investigative reports after the first wave also indicated that the actual number of deaths could be much higher than the 

During the second wave in India, many suffered from long COVID. People recovering from the disease had to endure months of weakness, post-COVID complications. Cases of mucormycosis, also known as the black fungus, have been reported in patients with diabetes and patients with COVID-19, as well as patients who were recovering from infection, a Lancet report said. Patients in the first wave infected with SARS-CoV-2 were predominantly older than 60 years and those with comorbid conditions were at increased risk of death. However, the second wave seemed to be affecting the younger adults a lot.



The intensive lockdowns imposed by the governments to curb the spread of COVID-19 created economic disruptions. Though the lockdowns this time were not as sudden as the first wave, there was a large-scale exodus of frightened workers from cities. Traders, small businessmen, hoteliers, theatre owners and workers who had still not recovered from the losses of the first wave, suffered.

Horrifying images and stories of the miseries COVID patients and their relatives had to go through made an impact worldwide. While the government was criticised for the tragic mismanagement of the pandemic, help also poured in from across the world. Over 50 countries including Russia, Pakistan, Singapore, China, UK, USA, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, etc. helped India with consignments of medicines, Oxygen and other necessary equipment.


Farmers protests deaths

Around 700 farmers lost their lives in the year-long farmers’ protests that ended last month after the repeal of the three controversial farm laws. However, since the beginning of the year, multiple tragic incidents marked the massive protests.

The farmers had organised a tractor rally to Red Fort on January 26. They were met with a stringent reaction from police. Farmers were barred from entering Delhi’s central part. Clashes between the police and the farmers intensified when the farmers entered Red Fort and hoisted the religious flag Nishan Sahib on the flagpole. Thousands of farmers were injured and one was reported to be dead.

In the months of protests that ensued, several farmers lost their lives in different parts of the country either to suicides, sickness or brutality. A study published in November by Lakhwinder Singh, former professor of economics at Punjabi University and Baldev Singh Shergill, assistant professor of social sciences at Punjabi University’s Guru Kashi Campus in Bathinda showed that most of the farmers who died were small and medium farmers who owned less than 3 acres of land.

At the end of August, a peaceful march by farmers in Haryana's Karnal to protest against a BJP meeting was met with violence by police, In fact, several media reports following the incidents showed that the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Karnal Ayush Sinha was allegedly caught on camera instructing the policemen to use force against the farmers. Several farmers were injured as police used riot gear against them.

While the Karnal incident shocked many, the violence against the farmers in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri shook the nation. On October 3, hundreds of protesting farmers were blocking state deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya's visit to Banbirpur village. A convoy of vehicles which included State Minister for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni's car ran over the farmers killing at least four. in the violence and mob lynching that followed, the four others lost their lives. Justice to the farmers who were killed in the incident and resignation by Teni has been one of the main demands of the farmers and opposition.

Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has informed Parliament that the government has “no record" of the deaths of the farmers who camped out at Delhi borders protesting against the now repealed three farm laws.


Helicopter Crash in December

On December 8, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, and 11 other persons who were on board IAF’s Mi-17V5 chopper died after it crashed near Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor.  He was flying to give a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington. The only survivor of the crash was the pilot, Group Captain Varun Singh, who later succumbed to his injuries in Military Hospital Wellington.

Eyewitnesses at Wellington said the weather had been cloudy since morning – unsuitable for helicopter flying. The Uttarakhand government declared a three-day state mourning to pay tributes to Rawat. 


Tragic loss of journalists

India lost several journalists this year. On July 16, 2021, India’s Pulitzer prize winning journalist Danish Siddiqui was killed in Afghanistan. He died alongside a senior Afghan officer while covering a clash between Afghan Special Forces and Taliban insurgents in Spin Boldak, Kandahar. While Siddiqui's death was tragic, even more horrifying was the online hatred that followed. Right wing trolls viciously celebrated his death. Siddqui's photojournalism often questioned the government as he pictured the Rohingya crisis in 2015 (which won him Pulitzer), 2020 Delhi riots, the mass cremations during the second COVID wave that shook the world, etc.

Another big blow to India’s media fraternity was the death of senior journalist Vinod Dua on December 4. He died at the age of 67 following a prolonged illness following COVID infections. 

In fact, close to 500 journalists have died due to COVID in India since the pandemic began. Several journalists also lost lives as they could not get beds, medicines and oxygen. Newslaundry journalist and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s son Ashish Yechury, Financial Express's Managing Editor Sunil Jain, The Wire's Radhakrishna Muralidhar, Aaj Tak anchor Rohit Sardana were among the journalists who died due to COVID or post-COVID complications. The government was heavily criticised for not declaring the journalists as frontline workers. However, only a few states brought in the provision to do so. 


State-civilian conflicts

Terrorists targeted and killed 11 civilians in the Kashmir valley in October. The attacks have triggered a series of encounters between security forces and suspected terrorists. Migrants in Kashmir valley were struck with terror after militants attacked several.

Deaths of civilians at the hands of the Army in the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland this year also caught the entire country’s eye. Kashmir Police were accused of two civilians killed in a controversial gunfight. Police say the civilians died in the crossfire between government troops and rebels. But witnesses and families of the civilians say Indian troops used those civilians as human shields during the standoff.



On December 4, an army patrol in Mon district mistook a group of labourers for militants and opened fire, killing six. The incident triggered violence in the area in which eight more civilians were killed after security forces allegedly opened fire. While the Central Government apologised for the incident, it raised questions over the long-pending issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in many northeastern states. Nagaland Government also passed a resolution seeking repeal of the act in the state.

On September 20, police in Assam’s Darrang district started an eviction drive in parts of Dhalpur village, claiming that the residents in around 800 households had illegally occupied government land. Three days later, police opened fire at some of the evicted residents who were protesting for their rights over their homes, and killed two protesters. Horrifying videos of a photographer violating Moinul Haque’s body by jumping over him lying lifeless on the ground drew the focus of the nation towards the incident that was mostly oblivious to the eviction drive just a couple of days prior.


Mob lynching incidents

The end of 2021 saw two gut-wrenching incidents of mob lynching in Punjab. Enraged mobs killed two men in response to alleged acts of sacrilege. The first incident took place at the Amritsar Golden Temple, when a man allegedly barged into the inner sanctum, where Sikhism's holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is kept. The second lynching case took place within a few days when another man was accused of sacrilege after he allegedly tried to remove the Sikh flag, Nishan Sahib, from a Sikh temple in Kapurthala. In the second case, the police suspected that the man was a thief and had not arrived with the intention of sacrilege.