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DecovIndia – interdisciplinary research at King's in times of a pandemic

Persis Taraporevala

PhD Student, Department of Geography

16 March 2021

Early 2020 was a haze of following newly developed widgets on news portals that clocked case numbers and mortality rates of the Covid-19 pandemic. I, like many others, fell into a wormhole of information in order to make sense of a flu-like infection that had turned the world upside down. Personal conversations teemed with previously inconsequential topics like masks, toilet paper and whether we could hug friends; while global news coverage discussed how the pandemic had made legible fault lines of inequality in terms of access to economic wellbeing, health care and social security, both globally and within countries. It was in the middle of this confusing and stressful time that I had the privilege of being part of a collaborative project at King’s College London to study the effects of Covid-19 on specific sectors in India.

The project, called DecovIndia, was housed by King’s India Institute and lead by Dr Louise Tillin. The project was an interdisciplinary collaborative effort that sought to 1) understand how the pandemic affected the domains of economy, public health and social security in India at a decentralised or regional level and 2) trace coping and planning strategies of regional government bodies during the pandemic.

In terms of health care, the project sought to contextualise the daily reports of positive cases, recovery and mortality numbers by sourcing information on the available public healthcare infrastructure and workforce in India. The project looked at the availability of material healthcare facilities like hospitals and ventilators but also human resources like doctors, nurses and even volunteers. One unique aspect of the project was a focus on government notifications, or orders, from regional governments in terms of hospital and quarantine processes, surveillance, use of public spaces and other operating procedures. The aim of this section was to provide context and institutional preparedness for a pandemic at the regional level of governance.

DecovIndia map 2

One of the primary talking points in India, at the start of the pandemic, was the effect on precarious communities like regional migrants who made up a large bulk of the informal workforce of urban India but often lacked access to formal documentation that was essential to be recognised as beneficiaries of regional social security measures. The pause in economic activity in urban India resulted in largescale unemployment and homelessness and drove hundreds of thousands of people to risk their lives to journey home thousands of kilometers on foot. Rachael Chitra, an Indian journalist, started recording newspaper reportage and found literally hundreds of stories in Indian newspapers and compiled the information on twitter. This kind of reportage is critical to remembering the inhumanity of the pandemic and the project sought to understand who had access to social welfare resources, how were they able to access it and for how long. This information too drew on public government databases and orders.

Finally, the pandemic took a substantial economic toll on human life in India and while it will take some time to fully understand the extent on the Indian economy, the project sought to make available data on changes in consumption, agriculture and fiscal borrowings to provide an overview of possible effects. As a largely qualitative researcher, this aspect of the project was new to me as the economists looked at the changes in pollution and demands for electricity or differences in the registration of new companies to provide a larger reading of how the pandemic might impact the Indian economy.


The project was collaborative in terms of a coming together of multiple disciplines and academic faculty at KCL but also through a process of engaging with the tracking exercises conducted by Indian think tanks and civil society organisations like PRS Legislative Research, the Centre for Policy Research and Dvara Research. The project ran for almost five months and the weekly meetings were, personally, a space where I was part of a wonderful collegial group of academics and practitioners seeking to do what I joined academia for – making sense of the world and I am deeply grateful to be a part of this project.

About the Author

Persis Taraporevala is a PhD Candidate with the Geography Department at King’s College London and focuses on Smart Cities in India. She was the Team Coordinator for the project entitled DecovIndia led by Dr Louise Tillin (King’s India Institute) and funded by the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy and the King’s India institute.

Persis Taraporevala
Persis Taraporevala

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Louise Tillin

Louise Tillin

Director, King's India Institute

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