Talk

We don’t need no education

Urvashi Butalia | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 17, 2020

Picture this: Television coverage of the Rhea Chakraborty episode helped many forget the tension with China and the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases   -  PTI

’Tis the season of wilful prejudice and mindless diversions as Covid-19 overwhelms India

* Television coverage has taken a different tack: Find a victim, an ‘other’ and target them, and all anxieties will be forgotten. Sushant Singh Rajput provided some distraction, but it was short-lived

* Enter Rhea Chakraborty, the ‘girlfriend’, the young, articulate, urban woman: The perfect target for the media to dig its claws into, and to involve large numbers of viewers, who could use this real-life drama to forget the disease, or indeed the threat at the borders from China

* Nothing is in our control any longer: Knowledge, justice, health and state accountability, which is an ever-receding horizon. Only the poor are in our grip — jobless and hungry, right at our doorstep

Corona fear and confusion is all around us. The more the disease advances, the less we know. And, in a curious kind of way, we also seem eager to know less. If we can deny the seriousness of the pandemic, ignore it, sideline it, we can go on believing that there’s no danger to us, that somehow it will bypass us.

There are many ways to sideline it. The media has already begun to deploy some of these. Newspaper coverage on the pandemic has moved from page 1 to somewhere deep inside, as if the rising number of cases is now so routine that keeping a count seems pointless.

Television coverage has taken a different tack: Find a victim, an ‘other’ and target them, and all anxieties will be forgotten. Sushant Singh Rajput provided some distraction, but it was short-lived. After all, how much can you focus on the dead?

Another search for the devilish ‘others’ yielded the jailed activists, the women and men who’re being held for alleged conspiracies against the nation or to defame the government, or more. But they were swiftly abandoned, their stories are not “juicy” enough. Besides, to give them attention means to bring the injustice done to them to public attention. Best to leave that alone?

Enter Rhea Chakraborty, the ‘girlfriend’, the young, articulate, urban woman: The perfect target for the media to dig its claws into, and to involve large numbers of viewers, who could use this real-life drama to forget the disease, or indeed the threat at the borders from China.

But let’s not put the whole blame on the media. There are things happening closer to home, in our real lives, where, too, the sidelining of the Corona crisis is taking place, often under the pretence of focusing on it.

In the upper-middle class area in south Delhi where I live, large numbers of residents — many of them young — walk around without face masks, entitlement shrieking out of every tight muscle in their bodies. Sometimes, as a concession, they will have one strung around the neck or hanging just below the mouth; and if someone objects, they will raise it for a few seconds, only to bring it down again.

‘I’m protected, the disease will not get to me,’ is written all over them. The large number of cases in the area don’t seem to dent this confidence.

Mask discipline isn’t something that can easily be imposed in a country as large and overpopulated as ours. But you’d think those who claim to be educated and who read or watch the news (but what is the news, you might ask) would know. Clearly they don’t want to know.

They do, however, want to assign blame. It’s easy, and convenient, to mark someone else as the culprit. It helps to deflect your own culpability, it serves to locate the blame elsewhere, and it helps to deal with the anger and helplessness of a society and a State that is collapsing all around us.

Where I live, for example, there’s a lively and acrimonious discussion going on among the residents about “protecting the colony” and “protecting our children” from the disease. The methods of protection most sought after are: Closing off all access gates so only “legitimate” (read elite) people can enter, and barring the entry of ragpickers, kabadiwalas, and not allowing certain tradespeople in, because they “shout” and they are “dirty”.

But did the dirt bring the disease? If yes, we should all have been ill a very long time ago; there’s a lot of dirt around us all the time. Besides, what is gained by stopping the working class from entering the area, if you don’t, at the same time, stop residents from going out?

Last week, a resident who is a journalist, pointed this out. “I’ve been going to work throughout the lockdown,” she said, “so why is no one protestingt? I could be bringing the infection back with me.” This reasonable question was met with silence.

What would happen, another resident asked, if domestic workers and drivers barricade their residential areas and not allow the original vectors of the disease — the travelling elite — to pass through? No answer here too.

Built some 40 years ago, this residential area spent the first three decades without being a gated colony. Now, suddenly, inhabitants are convinced that the roads that run through the area are private roads, as are the parks. No one who doesn’t match their social parameters has a right to these.

Wilful ignorance and prejudice are now the hallmarks of our society. Nothing is in our control any longer: Knowledge, justice, health and state accountability, which is an ever-receding horizon. Only the poor are in our grip — jobless and hungry, right at our doorstep.

Best then to blame them, or to blame the women. As for the disease, it will not pass.

 

Urvashi Butalia is an editor, writer and director of Zubaan;

Email: blink@thehindu.co.in

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Published on September 17, 2020
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