Why baptize COVID-19; viruses do not need such classifications!
Whatever is known of the novel coronavirus thus far informs that like other viruses and bacteria, this invisible creature does not belong to any particular faith tradition, or sex, or possess any other such markers, which humans so obsessively assign to themselves for the purpose of othering the OTHER. However, for the past few days now deliberate attempts are being made to baptize this virus and assign its rapid procreation to a particular faith community. Excuse the cliché — ‘it happens only in India’!
This deliberate ploy serves several interests of a certain political class — a direct reference is avoided for known reasons. First, it fits very well into its tradition of hate and malice towards a particular community — the political and religious other – something which has right from inception remained its core political ideology and philosophy. In the last few years, access to power has brought this way of thinking and bahaviour into the political mainstream.
Now hate is no longer fringe, it’s already morphed into a popular culture, with a substantial chunk of the country’s thinking population wearing it on their sleeve with honour and triumph. No wonder even the country’s institutions, which have thus far been its pride, and strength, and vital cushions against any deviations towards dictatorial anarchy, are today buckling under pressure and giving in to the whims and fancies of this political class.
Second, it takes away focus from the governance failures at varied levels in the political executive and subordinate administrative set up. When absolute lack of government’s fore- and hind-sight to anticipate the enormity of the challenges of a nationwide shutdown, and abject failure to ameliorate the problems faced by the general public, could have been at the centre-stage of public debate and discourse, giving communal colour to the Tablighi Jamaat‘s congregation at its Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi has pushed the gullible yet again into the dark alley of communal othering.
Nobody is any longer asking why measures were not initiated well in advance to ensure that the migrant labourers were not caught off guard in “alien” lands with sudden announcement of countrywide shutdown. In recent past when Centre decided to do away with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by scrapping the Article 370 and Article -35-A of the Indian Constitution, it made sure that no tourist from any other state, or migrant labourers from UP, Bihar, Punjab, West Bengal and other places were stranded in Kashmir during the rightly anticipated and accounted for months-long curfew and shutdown that followed the decision. Even the annual Amarnath Yatra was suddenly called off, much ahead of its scheduled closure to ensure that pilgrims faced no trouble or inconvenience. Thousands of paramilitary personnel were airlifted to the Valley and parts of Jammu days ahead of the decision even when the political executive (then J&K Governor, and the Home Minister) feigned complete ignorance about any major political development happing in the Himalayan state (now couple of union territories).
Why wasn’t a similar mechanism adopted before going ahead with the nationwide COVID-shutdown?
Stopping the march of coronavirus is certainly a big national and international priority right now. Measures like nationwide shutdowns have become inevitable for its efficiency to ensure and enforce social distancing — only effective tool of thwarting the spread of infection of this deadly disease, which had already claimed thousands of lives globally, and could claim millions more if not taken seriously.
But, while safeguarding populations against the threats posed by novel coronavirus are important, one cannot also afford to lose sight of the urgencies and exigencies faced by those suffering similarly life-threatening diseases and terminal illnesses. Today, lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients, those suffering progressive cardiac and kidney diseases, those who need regular dialyses and similar other medical interventions, are hanging in balance. These people need constant and uninterrupted supply of drugs and other medical aids, besides unhindered access to varied diagnostic and testing facilities, medical treatment and advice.
Why are their needs and requirements not being accounted for?
If ordinary raincoats and surgical masks would suffice the need of frontline health workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics, and sanitation workers, police, et. al, there would not have been a global hue and cry over the shortage of the PPE (personal protection equipment) needed for fighting COVID-19. Great Indian ‘Juggaad — raincoats in place of disposable gowns and aprons while N95 or FFP2 masks, and goggles or face shields are missing — and the officials are patting themselves for having pioneered this innovation. ‘It happens only in India!’
A country which could afford shipping huge consignments of badly wanted PPE to Serbia while overlooking the urgent needs of health workers back home needs to do some explaining to the domestic audiences about such a choice.
These and countless other questions are lurking many a minds, but people no longer seek answers. Their focus has so conveniently been shifted towards the Tablighi Jamaat incident — a digression, a detour that was desperately needed at this critical juncture.
What happened at the Nizamuddin Markaz of the Tablighi Jamaat is unfortunate and merits condemnation, and it has in fact attracted censure in good quantity. But it is also true that the incident, at its best or even worst, qualifies only for brash carelessness of worst magnitude. Attributing any other motive to it is being unfair not only to the group but also to the concepts of justice and proportionality. Those who are using it to target a community are only giving vent to the worst prejudices they nurse towards the members of a particular tradition. Frankly speaking, their bigotry is more sinister than Jamaat’s callousness.
Tail Piece: Some time back, in a discussion over the decline suffered by Urdu language in its place of birth, its motherland India, an expert pointed out rather sarcastically: “Urdu language has been made to recite ‘Shahadah’ (the Muslim profession of faith) and thus baptized into being a Muslim. Likewise, Hindi language has been apportioned to Hindus. Both communities have made it sure that they stick to the language appropriated to their community. So in a country like India, Urdu language is bound o suffer.” Unfortunate though, but people have been living with this ghettoisation of languages without attracting any physical harm. Dreadful consequences of COVID-19 being looked at, and treated as Urdu should not be difficult to imagine!