By Ananya Guha
The expression social distancing has come to stay permanently in our vocabulary. It began with the corona virus a highly contagious disease. What however is meant is physical distance, so that one does not contract the disease from someone else. At the same time people who are afflicted by it are also being socially ostrasized or stigmatised. So in this context the expression is appropriate.
What started off by meaning keeping a physical distance has ironically turned out to be true. Take the tragic instance of a doctor in Shillong who met a fatal end due to the corona virus. His body was taken for cremation in a locality but the people opposed it fearing spread of the virus. Covid 19 has led to wrong beliefs and even superstition a kind of an abracadabra of science, befuddled science and irrational belief. Science because action research on it is still going on and sincere efforts are being made to devise a cure to combat it. Half baked science because all kinds of false advisories are being circulated in social networking groups. Superstition because we are actually trying to shoo away the virus by beating drums or singing songs. For once the entire humanity is threatened and irrespective of race. It is the survival of the human race which is at stake. It shows how vulnerable we are as human beings. All the while we have shown political aggrandisement and showing off our nuclear arms or brandishing as super powers. Now these very ‘ super powers’ or the so-called developed countries are reeling under the virus which has assailed us ferociously. We are afraid, we are self conscious. Conscious of our selves and self preservatory. We don’t need to be told to wear masks we are doing it with alacrity. Yet the virus shows no signs of leaving us.
What then is the moral of the story? The virus has exploded the myth that nations and individuals with money power, muscle power or nuclear power are all powerful and have suddenly become rickety and broken down with fear and helplessness.Technology has taken a back seat. Speculations are rife that life is not going to be the same again and life styles will change. What should change is mindset. We must think of a people centred humanism where there is among nations poverty and strife. It is human suffering which should be our focus. Countries must now learn to help each other as a comity of nations and not as developed or undeveloped. The world governance of organizations such as the UN should act as real arbiters of justice and alleviation of poverty with dispassion, and not kow tow to the so called super powers.
In fact there must be a breaking of social and political distance. We must be socially one and politically just. Equality and inequality within nations have been de mythicised. All are EQUAL in the eyes of Covid 19. There is no high or low. If the abject poor in our country are suffering because of want of food and daily wages then the well off are suffering the trauma of fear with death stalking our lives. The poor feel that rather than dying from this virus they will die of hunger. It is here that our concerns are middle class centred or affluent centred in poorer countries such as India. For once we are desperate in our apprehensions that this Covid might disturb our lives, our complacency, our equipoise, our self complacency. And death and fear of it is hiding in a corner. Now it is no longer ‘ them’ and ‘ us’ but US and IT. There is no otherness or otherisation. All fanatical otherness of religious and racial divide have taken a back seat. When we talk about our life styles changing and life not being the same again it is an egotistical stand. We have to adapt, change and accept. And that change or adaptation will be as some call it the new normal. But conversely why will there be a change? The virus might dissipate. We are in too much in a hurry to portend the future because we think that it is at stake.
We are learning lessons. One is our puniness of existence, notwithstanding our armaments and the bogey that we constantly raise of disarmaments. The second is racial otherness. These two become redundant amidst today’s threat. The fear is national, local and individual. The individualist take is inherent in every human being. What we fear is that me as an individual might go. It is part fear part egotistic. Otherwise how can one explain a man killing his brother in Northern India, because he chose to go out? Human beings in essence are deeply individuated. They think that as far as they are fine ‘ all’s right with the world’ to use a line of the poet Robert Browning.
That all is not right and the world is in a chaos of death and tragedy is of course the truth now. This is being reduced to numbers, everyday there is statistical analysis of deaths and cases. That a very well known doctor and a committed one at that was a prey to this dreaded virus is no cause of mourning; his family was prevented from giving him a salutation, his last rites. All his contribution to the medical profession in Meghalaya has been forgotten. We zero into ourselves only. Science or the art of caring does not work.
( The author is the Former Regional Director , IGNOU , Shillong )