I have to admit I suffer from acute katsaridaphobia —

My Kastaridaphobia is stronger than my fear of COVID19 or cows.

While COVID is being kept at bay with isolation, masks, lockdowns and quarantines and cows can be kept at bay by gates in India and can only be seen in restricted areas in Singapore, creatures that cause Katsaridaphobia cannot be kept at bay anywhere in the world. They have been around for 320 million years — much, much longer than our species — and are known to spread diseases like cholera, typhoid, asthma, polio, leprosy and plague.

A poet friend eulogised the panic caused in the hearts of people by these creatures, the culprits who cause kastaridaphobia. In fact, I learnt this intimidating word from him! While the verses were evocative, they sent empathetic shivers down my spine by their very description.

Have you as yet guessed what these creatures are? They swarm drains, eat faeces and carry filth — and yet we have learnt to live with them for the whole span of our species existence. These creatures are our creepy, crawly cockroaches!

I am more terrified of cockroaches than anything in the world, closely followed by cows and now, it’s corona virus. So, the three Cs that frighten me most would be — Cockroaches, Cows and Covid-19 — and I hope for a time when I will be able to laugh my fears off the face of this Earth!

You can of course call it wishful thinking!

Apposed to these are the three Cs that capitalism had ingrained into us as the life dream of all humans — credit card-condo-car — the very things that big C threatens with its fiery radial. While, we have learnt to deal with cockroaches and all the terrible diseases it can bring into our lives, while we managed to tame cows and keep them in pens, COVID still roams wild and free. The most hit are of course those who belong to the lowest income stratas. A Times report showed how in New York the poorest make up the largest percentage of COVID patients, eventhough they are not all tested because the tests are expensive. In India, one does not dare think how many deprived will be affected. The homeless migrant labour have been much in news in India and heart-breaking stories have found their way to the media. One of the reports I saw on this issue with some statistics was in Straits Times of Singapore. The report said: “The International Labor Organization warned last week that about 400 million workers engaged by the informal economy, which accounts for a staggering 90 per cent of the country’s (India’s) total workforce, risk falling deeper into poverty during the crisis. A report released by the World Bank on Sunday stated that the pandemic will reinforce inequality in South Asia, urging governments to ramp up action to protect their people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, including through temporary work programs.”

Most of the media is talking of the overall economic impact and some of it can be seen in the layoffs that seem to have started dotting the pandemic. But, outside of that are those who live under bridges, in parks and in empty drainpipes, who have no homes and were given some kind of temporary shelter if they were found during this global crisis. In a report in Countercurrents, KP Sasi wrote: “With more than 200 million hungry people, India is the home to the largest number of hungry people in the world.  More than 190 million people in India sleep without food daily. One out of 4 to 5 children in India is malnourished.” Is this census right? Have all these people been isolated? Are there still some under bridges and lonely spots who are unaccounted for? Are they being fed? Non-government organizations and charity groups are doing their bit. But is the bit enough?

In Singapore, where number of people are each accounted for, the crowds are more manageable, majority of the cases have been foreign workers who come to eke a living because they cannot earn enough to survive in their own countries. These workers man construction sites and blue collared jobs. They live in dormitories and were for some reason not put into the isolation or lockdown mode by their employers. But once they were discovered, the non-government organizations and the government has taken action and provided for them. They are taken care of. And each one of them gets tested. While testing continues to be a fiasco in US for the high costs and, in India, one wonders how many homeless have actually had social distancing and testing? Have each one of them found a shelter while we stay indoor in fear of COVID, battling cockroaches with chemicals and slippers?

The measures taken during the pandemic worldwide look like short term stop gap solutions to me. Will there ever be a global concerted effort to create a more equitable world with jobs post-COVID that will provide enough so that the homeless, hungry and jobless will find work, have a home, a full stomach and dignity and pride in their work with proper schooling facilities for their children?

While, the deprived dare not to reach for the three Cs crowned by capitalism in a eulogistic paean, they have survived despite their poverty. Here are some statistics I found. “Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.”

While world poverty figures show a decline since 1990s, the gap between the rich and poor only widens. And what will a global pandemic do to these figures?

Projections show there will be more people who will not have jobs, who will have to give up their dreams and aspirations. Global hunger is seen on the rise due to the pandemic. Will we survive, learning from the species who cause Katsaridaphobia in me? Or, will we be crushed by the coronavirus like we crush cockroaches under our slipper?

Will we, like bovines, wait placidly to be led by world leaders? Or, will we make sure that greed, exclusivity and pollution is replaced by humanitarian concerns, more equitable distribution of wealth, more jobs for humans, an inclusive culture of love, tolerance and openness, climate friendly life options — making the Earth a desirable planet, a friendly, green planet to live in? Can we redefine our lives and needs for a more optimistic future?

Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and the editor of Borderless Journal


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