By Dr.Ananya S Guha
And we are back to it again. Superstition. We are asked to light lamps and candles for nine minutes at 9 pm. What is so propitious about the number nine? Earlier on we were asked to beat drums and sound conch shells to drive the virus away. The danger with superstition is that it plays to the gallery and draws masses thereby generating ignorance. The last time in response to the Prime Minister’s call people came out in numbers which is potentially inimical given the contagious nature of the corona virus. So the lockdown on that Sunday could have turned virulent among groups. Wasn’t that comprehended?
The question is how will lighting lamps help to tackle the fight against the disease? Keeping our homes dark how will that combat the virus? This is baffling embattled as the whole world is in the crisis. This is also obfuscating science with superstition, when doctors and health care workers are battling it out, when scientists are striving to cohere scientifically methods to contain the virus in India and the world over, when the WHO is articulating preventive measures, when again the media is relentlessly propagating such measures for the benefit of the public.
In times of such crises in the world don’t we also have to think of the economy, the poorest of the poor, the daily wage workers who are starving? Shouldn’t our thoughts rivet to such people and money or provisions should go to them immediately? But superstition goes down well with both the literate and the illiterate. Should we not mingle politics with caution? What I am saying is that this is a humanitarian crisis, the poor need cash and food and not the sound of gongs. If this is a symbolism then I am sorry to say, in the given crisis it is misplaced. The need of the hour is to contain the spread of the virus, which we are doing in the country with a oneness; marvellously, and then monitor it minute by minute. And the economic fall out should be measured, antidotes worked out pragmatically. The poor and the suffering should be uppermost in our minds.
In the age of reason and knowledge the significant concomitant is not superstition but religion-the religion of love and compassion- in action.
This is not the time to propagate the formal religion of the majority. Some say that the number nine echoes Hinduism, Nav Ratri. Could be correct. Commingling formal religion with scientific attempts to fight the virus only leads to irrationality because superstition comes in , others belonging to different religious groups may not accept this. Also people who believe in a scientific approach to combat diseases or sickness of such proportions. What might be worse is that people might again come together to light lamps. We saw last time how they transgressed rules. India is a vast country there will always be some over enthusiastic misguided people. Superstition can play havoc and have deleterious effects in a time when the whole world is trying to fight with ferocity the community outbreak of this dreaded virus.
It is unfathomable why this has been urged upon the citizens of the country, instead health workers must be constantly lauded and pepped for risking their lives for us.Staying twenty one days locked up is a torture but we all realised that this must be done for the common good, in the midst of a veritable war. Rather what the people need is mental succour and encouragement. While the intention of our Prime Minister is good the constant allusion to do something which is superstition does not gel with the science which needs to be invoked to prevent the virus to spread to community proportions. What should be done at this stage is to remind the people of such hazards. We have seen what has happened as a result of the Islamic meet in Delhi. At a time when we were controlling the virus this was discovered and in one day statistics catapulted. The Nizamuddin episode was grossly negligent and uncalled for. It put the clock back at a time when our health and social workers were fighting valiantly.That too was superstition in the guise of formal region when the world and India was wracked by the corona virus.
To sum up we need knowledge, a scientific temper with love to fight this malaise. The latter is demonstrated by individuals and NGOs who have come out in numbers to help the needy, the poor and the starving, the street people, the rickshaw pullers and the daily wage earners. Our doctors are constantly reminding us of what we should do and what we shouldn’t. The media is facilitating this admirably. But superstition and irrationality may only ignite that dreaded community backlash, the fear of the virus afflicting at the community level and by implication- killing.
( The Author is the Former Regional Director of IGNOU , Shillong)