A farcical show amidst the Janata curfew

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on March 24, 2020

The whole idea of social distancing was lost as groups of people across cities congregated to applaud the relief workers

As India has no other option than go for a total lockdown temporarily to arrest the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to all Indians to observe a ‘Janata curfew’ as a test case on Sunday was welcome. But what unfolded that evening in several Indian cities was nothing short of a horror story.

At the outset, hand-clapping and thaali banging seemed a bad idea to express our support for the heroic work being put in by personnel engaged in essential services, led by our healthcare workers. These are grim times and the heroic men and women engaged in doing their duty in various services, vulnerable to an infection with unknown consequences, need our support and appreciation of course. But in a dignified and befitting manner.

Going by scenes that emerged on social media and TV, the whole exercise disintegrated into a farce. Election victory-like rallies were taken out in cities such as Ahmedabad and Indore.

The whole idea of social distancing and “home curfew” was junked as groups of people came together in close proximity to create noise pollution on the roads by the grotesque act of banging thaalis and blowing shankhs. To embarrass us further in the eyes of the international community and expose the soft underbelly of how senseless a section of Indians can be, we heard loud chants of “go Corona, go”.

By the end of the day, what was meant to be an exercise to thank our health and other workers, turned out to be nothing more than a circus. The central message behind the ‘Janata curfew’ was totally lost. Leaving a bitter taste in the mouth, it raised the possibility that if this virus doesn’t kill us, sheer stupidity will do the job.

One was left wondering about the plight of tens of millions of Indians who do not have homes with balconies, and who are dependent on daily wages to buy food for their children. What would have gone through their minds as they watched this tamasha? As more towns and cities lock down, the plight of the daily wage labourers and migrant workers — most of whom are being laid off as industrial/construction/business activities come to a halt — can only be imagined.

While we keep washing our hands and emptying stores of sanitisers, for them their very survival is at stake. Who is going to feed them and their families is a huge question mark. As all public transportation comes to a grinding halt, how will they even manage to reach their homes is a big worry.

So how do we go ahead in these coronavirus times? There are grim warnings on the kind of consequences a densely populated country like ours can face.

Of course we will overcome these testing times. The resilience of our people is well known; leaving aside a small section who foolishly hope to drive the virus away through sloganeering – forget gaumutra. So far, the Central and most of our State governments have done admirably well in putting together mammoth response teams to contain this virus. We were quick to close our borders to international visitors.

Disappointing response

But the response from two sections of our society has been disappointing. The principal Opposition party, or whatever is left of it, the Congress, continues to play politics. Its central leadership needs to put its entire weight behind the Central government so that India’s response to protect its people from disease and death during these trying times is optimum.

The other disappointment comes from the corporate bigwigs. True some response has trickled in from the Mahindras, Vedanta, etc. But is it too little too late? World over, billionaires such as Bill Gates and Jack Ma have made announcements committing impressive sums to tide over this crisis. But there is deafening silence from India Inc in announcing major donations to help the government.

If they could enthusiastically embrace electoral bonds, which gave them the convenient anonymity, they now have to step forward to help the less fortunate in a nation whose citizens, and of course politicians, helped them make their fortunes. The same is true of our sportsmen, particularly cricketers and film celebrities.

If at all we need to learn a lesson on how to give, let us turn to the Sikh community. Groups of the Sikh diaspora in Australia, Canada and the UK are delivering food to the homes of the needy. Whether it is Shaheen Bagh or corona, they deserve our salute.

Published on March 24, 2020

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