Quick Take

Making a circus of a global pandemic

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on March 23, 2020

Residents clapping hands, banging plates and ringing bells to appreciate the work done by doctors, nurses and other who maintain essential services during the (COVID-19) coronavirus crisis on Sunday during the Janata Curfew.   -  The Hindu

While India has no other option than adopt a temporary but total lockdown to arrest the spread of COVID-19, and hence Prime Minister’s Modi’s appeal to all Indians to observe a “janata curfew” as a test case on Sunday was welcome, what unfolded that evening in several Indian cities was nothing short of a horror story.

But 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, befitting manner.

Going by scenes that emerged on social media and TV screens, the whole exercise disintegrated into a grotesque horror show. It was in utter despair that thousands of us watched election victory-like rallies being taken out in cities such as Ahmedabad and Indore. The whole idea of social distancing and a “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 add insult to injury, embarrass us further in the international community and expose the soft underbelly of how idiotic 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, as crazy images of sheer stupidity surfaced.

Gimmick vs stark reality

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 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 went through their minds as they watched this tamasha, one wonders.

As more and more towns and cities lock down, the plight of the daily wage labourers, migrant workers most of whom have been laid off as all industrial/construction/business activity comes to an end, can only be imagined. While we keep washing our hands and emptying stores of sanitisers, it is their very survival that is at stake. Who is going to feed them and their families is a huge question mark. As all public transportation is coming to a grinding halt, how will they even manage to reach their homes is their big worry.

Future- grim or optimistic?

So where do we go on COVID-19, having made a bit of a mess with the one-day janata curfew? 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; one section of Indians might display stupidity in wishing the virus away through sloganeering – its not even worth talking about the fringe elements who are advocating gau-mutra as a remedy – but the resilience of our people is well known. So far the Government of India, 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.

But the response from two sections of our society is 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 the most optimum.

Corporates need to pitch in

The other disappointment comes from the corporate biggies. True some response has trickled in from the Mahindras, Anil Agarwal, etc. But it is too little too late. World over, billionaires such as Bill Gates, Jack Ma, etc have made announcements committing impressive sums to tide over this crisis. But there is deafening silence from Indian biggies in announcing major donations to help the government steer the nation through this crisis. If they could enthusiastically embrace electoral bonds, which gave them convenient anonymity, to open out their purses to political parties, 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 celebrities of Indian cinema.

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 UK are delivering food to the homes of the needy. Whether it is Shaheen Bgh of corona, they deserve our salute.

Published on March 23, 2020

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