I am the Political Editor with the Hindu BusinessLine.

Poornima Joshi

Fear and loathing

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 15, 2020

Surviving Self-Distancing – Day 12

Mrs Sharma next door put two diyas outside. From the building opposite I saw a couple waving their cellphone torches for the 9 pm-nine minute show. India was shining and then bursting, the lockdown erupting with loud bursts of crackers. A fire erupted at Solapur airport apparently because of the crackers exploding nearby. The light and sound circus then moved all over TV and whatsapp groups. Fear grips us and we cling to the tiniest flickers of hope, in a diya, lamp, light, torch, crackers. We seek stability, security in this time of chaos and uncertainty and if waving cellphone torches does it, so be it.

This isn’t the moment to appeal for rationality. To seek just and fair policy decisions. To demand stronger public healthcare infrastructure, fiscal stimulus to revive the economy, immediate relief to those who have suffered forced displacement and loss of livelihood. All of this is too banal, mundane in the face of the extraordinary crisis. And who knows it better than those whose very political existence is rooted in stoking latent fears, creating divisions. The fears are no longer latent but totally exposed now. Time for them to revel in the supernatural, evoke the cosmic powers.

Meanwhile, a lot of us fearful people have taken on the job of the cultural organisation to pit one faith against another, one nationality against another. The Chinese did it to the world so a lawyer from Bihar actually filed a case against the Chinese premier in a court. And then arrived the fresh wave of Islamophobia triggered by the mindless Tabliqis and their dangerous congregation in the time of corona. Insanity is not the preserve of only one community, we must outdo each other. Given the number of my own relatives abusing the Muslims on social media, we don’t need any cultural organisation or TV to do the job anymore, not that they have slackened their pace. An hour doesn’t go by when someone on TV is not abusing a conveniently bearded maulana and a day doesn’t go by when I don’t see or hear an otherwise gentle, sweet soul hurling the most obnoxious epithets at the Muslims. It feels good I suppose; when you’re completely helpless and anxious, beating another helpless and anxious person perhaps elevates our sense of being, gives us that elusive sense of power and control that we so completely lack over our own lives. I’ve told little, plump Gulshan not to venture out at any cost. God knows which fear-struck idiot is lurking in the neighbourhood.

Besides bashing the Muslims, an exercise that is clearly satisfying our majoritarian impulses, there is obvious comfort and safety in invoking the supernatural by collective lighting of the lamps. It’s the psychological power of a quack in a village who is known to cure snakebites. There isn’t enough anti-snake venom available nor are there doctors to go to and a majority of the snakes are not poisonous anyway. So the village ojha helps. We all know the level of preparedness to tackle a full-blown Covid-19 spread in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So, yes, we need the ojhas and we need the lights. If nothing else, they help alleviate the overpowering grip of the fear.

Published on April 10, 2020

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