The ongoing threat from coronavirus that the world is facing today has caused to change in the entire socio-economic and political narrative of India. It has unmasked all the social institutions and their stakeholders. Whether it is political class, media, bureaucracy, police, and doctors and for that matter a common individual, this pandemic has brought out the best and worst of humanity. It has unveiled both the beautiful and ugly sides of the human character and we have witnessed both the kind and corrupt version of human beings.

In this pandemic while on the one hand there is an environment of fear, prejudice, paranoia, humiliation and political bigotry. On the other hand there is an unprecedented outpouring of love, support, kindness, empathy and charity that has reaffirmed faith in humanity.

I believe that the sense of fear, prejudice, paranoia, humiliation is the byproducts of political bigotry. Though it is true that these symptoms of political bigotry exist much before the outbreak of this pandemic but during this pandemic we have seen and encountered an unprecedented level of these symptoms.

In a time, when a collective response was required from us to contain Covid-19, the political establishment with the help of media and PR agencies divided us in the name of religion and region by spreading hatred and creating fake narratives. Here I don’t want to discuss Tablighi Jamaat episode as you already know how the members of Jamaat became an easy target for media and administration as if this pandemic is brought in India by the. Terms like Corona Jihaad have been coined and hatred towards muslim community has been amplified. There was a nationwide hullabaloo and media trials over the stranded Tablighi Jamaat members for breaking the norms of social distancing and today a crazy crowd is openly flouting the social distancing norms and instead of voicing against the stupid decision of the government of opening liquor shops in this crises, everybody is silent and enjoying the clash between the crowd and police near the liquor shops. Memes are flooding on social media.

On one hand this pandemic has exposed the communal faces of many while on the other hand it has also shown our seriousness towards dealing the same.  Several people from northeast India are facing racial attacks. In the month of March, a woman from Manipur was spat on by a man in Delhi and called ‘corona’ by him. It is shameful that the doctors and police personnel have been attacked by the mob. It is also equally shameful that in some parts of the country the doctors have refused to treat patients belonging to a particular religious identity and the Police is arresting the Civil Rights Activists in the sedition charges. The real character of the stakeholders belonging to different institutions is coming out in this pandemic and we are unfortunately destined to see it.

During this health crisis, instead of developing a sense of sympathy and togetherness most of us have developed hatred towards each other. This hatred is more catastrophic than the Covid-19. It is indeed a sorry state that during this difficult time, religious biases and prejudice are at peak. The gulf among different Communities is widening day by day. News Anchors from their studios are adding more fuel to the communal fire. Responsible journalism has been overshadowed by the yellow journalism. This situation is alarming and I am sorry we are ethically deaf and morally blind.

Prime Minister Modi saw the pandemic almost entirely in personal and political terms. On Feb 12, during the initial phase of the pandemic, Rahul Gandhi had alerted the government about the threat of the Covid-19 but the government along with his supporters dismissed him as pappu. When India was in an initial stage of Covid-19, Prime Minister Modi was busy in welcoming Trump and the top leadership of BJP was busy in horse trading of MLAs in Madhya Pradesh. The careless response to the Covid-19 by the Health Ministry in India should not be considered less than a criminal offence because On March 13, while addressing reporters, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said coronavirus is not a health emergency and that there is no need to panic. Within just 10 days of a short span of time the Prime Minister and his cabinet realised the threat of the Covid-19. Finally on March 24, Prime Minister Modi announced a nationwide complete lockdown. It is true that this lockdown has managed to pause the spread of the virus but a lack of planning has led to hunger, uncertainty and panic across the country.

The delay from the government in taking the apt measure to contain the virus compels us to understand the chronology and the chronology of the political bigotry can be understood through the number of important political events which were happening at that time when the pandemic arrived in India. From Namaste Trump to oath taking ceremony in Madhya Pradesh, there is a chronology which clearly unveils the ugliness of our political establishment

The unplanned lockdown has pushed thousands of migrant workers in confusion and destitution; they are stranded far from their homes in cities with no food and money. As per the report of a survey published in The Hindu, “More than 90% of stranded migrant workers did not receive rations from the government. Close to 90% of those surveyed did not get paid by their employers. From March 27 to April 13, 70% of the surveyed workers had only less than 200 left with them.” Who is responsible for the distress among these workers? Is it not the failure of the government? It was expected from the Prime Minister that he will help the nation during this difficult time but instead of helping the countrymen, the Prime Minister himself spread his hands and started begging before the people.

This pandemic has also unveiled the hyporacy & ugliness of the big business tycoons, corporates and owners of companies, while on one hand they are donating hundreds of crores to the PM Cares Fund. On the other hand they are firing employees and cutting their salaries. PM Cares Fund is receiving small donations too and we all know who are giving these donations. On the instruction of their bosses, the government employees willingly or unwillingly agreed to donate one day’s salary to the PM Cares Fund. Today, hard earned money of the ordinary people is pouring into the PM Cares Fund and these people are donating with a believe that it is only the government that can co-ordinate and effectively manage relief work but they have completely ignored the fact that these funds being controlled by the Same government that proved to be failed on all fronts and ignored the initial warning of the pandemic and left them in complete confusion by imposing an unplanned lockdown.

Due to this unplanned lockdown, India’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed. It’s estimated that over 14 crore people, especially in the unorganised sector may have already lost their jobs. The Uncertainty of livelihood is causing more harm to the common people than the pandemic. Unfortunately Prime Minister Modi considers lockdown as a cure for Covid-19.

He has no plan in his head to deal with the economic repercussion of the pandemic. In this difficult time, the less you talk about the government aid the better because in the first place the government aid is not reaching the needy and if the aid anyhow reaches the needy, it is like a drop into the ocean, it doesn’t cater to the basic need of food and medicines.

It is good to see that the Prime Minister Modi is boosting the morale of the Covid-19 warriors in this difficult time by urging people to appreciate and applaud them but besides appreciation and “Mann ki baat” what Modi is doing for them on ground clearly reflects the real side of his character. Doctors are running out of protective gear and it has created a panic among them. If the Prime Minister can’t even make sure of the safety of the health workers, how can he make sure the safety of the common masses? Shortages of protective health gear are forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the coronavirus, exposing the weak state of the public health system in India. The earlier deflections of taali, thaali, diya & mombatti and now the army Jamboree are not going to help us to combat the Covid-19. Prime Minister Modi is begging before the people to collect the funds for fighting the pandemic as if the government treasury is empty but He has enough money for the useless exercise. He is trying to save this country from the threat of Covid-19 with his diablerie (totka). Who will make him understand that totka is not the solution, providing the essential security and logistic support is the only way out.

I am flabbergasted that the terminologies like Curfew and social distancing have become normal in this pandemic. The excessive usage of the term lockdown makes me feel that we are living in a strict military zone and the common usage of the term social distancing makes me realise the abusive and exploitative social division of the varna system. Instead of using the term social distancing, I would rather prefer to use the term physical distancing and that too when it is needed.

I have learnt through the human and social experiences that the pandemic like Covid-19 has caused less disaster on earth than the unforgivable blunders committed by the people during the course of history. For instance, on one hand, almost hundred years back the deadliest Spanish flu of 1918 had killed 20 million to 50 million people on the other hand during the same time period the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I (1914-1918) were about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. In 1942, Hitler killed 1.7 million Jews during the Holocaust and almost 85 million people perished during World War II which was even more brutal than the World War I and we all very well know that thses killings have not been caused by any pandemic or natural calamity.

For a few moments, forget about World War I & World War II and the casualties attached to the wars. I am not going to cite examples from global history anymore because the history of Indian society has also enough examples of communal clashes and blood baths. This year in January, The Home Ministry replied to an RTI mentioning that India witnessed 10,399 incidents of communal violence from 2004 to 2017 wherein 1,605 people were killed and 30,723 were injured. Almost three months ago, the communal violence that engulfed the North-East Delhi for four days – mobs killing innocent people and destroying property – left 53 dead. As per the report published in The Wire “Apart from those killed, over 200 have sustained serious injuries due to gunshots, sharp-edged weapons, stone-pelting and even falls sustained from buildings during the violence.” Now look at the Covid-19 graph and see the number of deaths in Delhi caused by the virus. You will find that In Delhi, only 64 people have lost their lives due to the Covid-19 till date. 4 days- 53 killed & more than 40 days 64 deaths just feel the difference. Again I would say that the pandemic like Covid-19 has caused less disaster on earth than the unforgivable blunders committed by the people during the course of history.

I don’t want to convey the sense that all human beings are bad or of conflicting nature. Indeed this pandemic has shown us the most beautiful traits of humanity too which is worth mentioning here. When the government has failed on all fronts, many individuals and NGOS came together and provided the essentials to the needy and tried to uplift the marginalised amid the crisis. People associated with different organisations are tirelessly serving those who are in need. It is also worth appreciating that the NGOs are feeding more people than the government during this lockdown. I have witnessed two sides of the human character, while on one hand some people are busy in petty hoarding of supplies. On the other hand many people are selflessly and generously helping the poor and needy. I believe helping those in need is not charity, its humanity and as long as selfless, generous and kind people exist among us, our society will remain intact and strong. We must understand that kindness promotes solidarity and solidarity makes a society better and worth living.  Needless to say that if we will not leave hatred and communal biasness behind, we will not survive in this health crisis. A sense of togetherness and a collective response are the need of the hour. The sooner we understand the better.

Shahid Jamal is an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently he is teaching History in Crescent School, New Delhi.


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One Comment

  1. Avatar Abu Osama says:

    It is a wonderful piece Shahid. You have flagged the concern very well.