Prof. R. G. Dastidar
We are living in one of the most trying periods in human history. The unique and unprecedented scenario that has unfolded across the world in a small time-frame due to the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken humanity.
The COVID pandemic and the lockdown has activated a virtual world and all have been sucked into it. People in India are no exception.
After all, we are used to living in a vibrant informal network of family, neighbourhood and work relationships. Suddenly these have vanished behind locked doors!
So what can we learn about ourselves in this situation of isolation and social distancing?
For a start, the lockdown was hardly expected to be successful closer home as unlike China, the only other country with comparable population size, India’s democratic governance has its own limitations. But clearly, we are doing very well in trying to control the pandemic! It is a brave- dedicated government-backed by society. Individuals and hundreds of thousands of families across all social spectrum resolved to fight COVID-19. This is indeed intriguing as well as gratifying to witness.
One clear message all of us are now getting is that of social ownership. People have accepted and supported the government’s decision to go for a total lockdown despite the personal cost involved. In many ways, Indians have gone out and voluntarily offered gifts like food packets and other essentials to the needy. People in large numbers have raised money voluntarily to meet the health care and other needs of the people. They have organized local communities and helped the authorities cutting across caste, class or religious lines. Extending monetary support to daily wage earners, or domestic help can be seen as a common phenomenon across the country. We have always known about poverty and hardships, but now we can see plenty of resilience and commitment with a human face.
Traditional Indian family values have surfaced with the receding capitalist market. These underscore our social organization and the spirit of the nation.
The high points notwithstanding, there is also no dearth of contradictions and they throw up many challenges.
People are asking for relaxation in terms of the sale of liquor in many creative ways! Some are showing irrational behaviour, callousness and desperation! Anxiety and depression is expected in these uncertain times and what is aggravating the situation even more is the adverse impact of COVID-19 on global economy. Also, there is political play with opposition parties doing all in their command to question the Government’s response to the challenges posed by the pandemic and the extended lockdown. The rumour mills are in full swing.
Soon, hopefully, this lockdown will be over, and we shall be back on the normal track, but will life be the same in the post-lockdown phase? Maybe for some, who would want to forget it all, and get back to business. No matter what, one thing is clear, the world has got altered significantly by the Corona pandemic.
The entire world will have to learn to live with the deadly virus and the threat it poses; also all the politics and strategizing it has unleashed, along with the potential threat of biological warfare, which is now a globally conceived reality.
Now conventional and nuclear wars can be treated as only one dimension of war! What we have witnessed within a short period is a reminder that it’s not just the man living on the border who will be paying for the nation’s freedom and peace during a war, as COVID pandemic has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that any biological war will be on the doorstep of every citizen.
From now onward, just paying taxes will not be enough. We have to own and embrace our society and government in more ways than one as the individual’s survival lies in the survival of the nation.
The Corona pandemic has made global processes, international politics and its consequences a part of common man’s perception. Just having effective and judicious governments is no longer enough; there is also a need for a vigilant and active society.
Another nudge to have significantly altered social consciousness has come from closer quarters. The actions and intentions of Jamaat and its ardent followers is under the scanner. This is not to say that the Jamaat is representative of all Muslims in India. Those who have resisted the government’s efforts to control the spread of COVID have questioned the very basis of nationhood…. we the people of India, who are we? Add to this the acts of some who have tried to covertly infect others. Defying and criminally attacking health workers and other government personnel has shaken us. What comes first – nation or religion? National good or sectarian agenda? What are the limits of secularism? Can a group of people be allowed to jeopardize the well-being of the nation?
There is another fundamental question. This question is not a question randomly asked but may be seen in the systematic sequence of events spanning decades of independent India. It is no longer about some people who have been contextually misled or provoked into mis-endeavors; it is about how we define nationhood and what will be its social basis?
Underlying what may seem, a political question and manoeuvring is the civilizational rift, the schism in the two world views.
Let me elaborate!
How do we define the relationship between the individual, society and State? Shaking off the yoke of imperial colonial rule was only the first step; the need was to strengthen community and develop national character. Unfortunately, successive governments in the post-Independene phase have responded more to electoral dictates and done little to uplift the society. This amounts to overlooking the fact that it has been India’s ancient civilizational impetus, as evident in its values, dispersed latently in social institutions that have supported a plural, secular and free society.
History has some essential message for India in the present context; the question now is: Do we recognize it? Will we, as a people respond quick enough to save the pluralistic fabric and evolutionary impetus of an uninterrupted civilization?
The author, Dr. R.G.Dastidar, is Professor and Head, Department of Sociology Barkatullah University. Her areas of academic interest and research include Indian Society, Gender, and Development issues.