Fighting COVID-19


Rohit Dhankar

This is clear by now that the country needs to do a lot if it wants to eradicate coronavirus. Medical equipment necessary for prevention and cure is needed in huge qualities, capability of health care system needs to be enhanced, protection measures for health workers need to be strengthened, number of tests need to be increased, so on and so forth. But the main thrust presently is on lockdown and social distancing. Initially the print media showed some suspicion of lockdown and seemed to indicate usual fragmentation in the society on almost all measures taken by the government. However, slowly the realisation seems to have dawned that this might be a necessary evil, and therefore, a socially united effort is essential to make it successful.

Since social distancing and lockdown to facilitate it is seen as the main method of fighting COVID19 in India, success of these measures become crucial for the society. In this situation cases of violation of lockdown guidelines jeopardise public health and even life. As Prof. Jean Dreze says in his piece in The Hindu on 23rd March 2020, risking one’s own health or life is a smaller consideration in these precautions; the larger consideration is being cautious about not causing harm to others, even unintentionally. From this point of view violations of lockdown guidelines are anti-social acts. However, lumping all cases of such violations together in one category and treating them similarly is neither just nor can it be used to improve efficiency of this measure. The cases of violations have to be understood in the context and in terms of intentions/ motivations. Without such differentiation treating all cases alike would be unjust to many people and effective ways of reducing such incidents can not be devised. This is the job of experts who have all the information and understand social psychology. Below I am sharing my common sense views in categorisation, legal and moral sanctions and measures that should be taken to prevent them.

In my view the incidents of lockdown violations can be classified in the following four categories:

  1. Arising out of necessity
  2. Due to selfishness and arrogance
  3. Due to ignorance and negligence
  4. Due to deliberate religious reasons

 

  1. Arising out of necessity

A very disturbing and difficult to prevent example of this kind of cases is the movement of migrant labourers. They are not the culprits but victims in spite of their movement being in violation of the lockdown. Most of them had or have no choice. Lack of place to say in, unavailability of amenities and money, facing hunger, etc. forced them to start moving. This clearly was an oversite on the part of the central and state governments. And even now the arrangements made for this group of people are perhaps not adequate to prevent all incidents of violation of lockdown due to necessity. In my view most of the violations by homeless people in cities also fall under this category.

Other case arising out of necessity could be related with medical emergency, unavailability of food and water in the people’s houses or some other unavoidable and unbearable conditions.

All these cases can not properly be said to be of wilful violation. It seems to me that they should not attract any legal or moral sanctions. Rather they should be considered cases to be helped. Provisions of food, water, medical care and other necessities should be organised to prevent cases of violation of this nature.

  1. Due to selfishness and arrogance

There have been many cases of violation of lockdown which can only be seen as arising out of selfishness and/or arrogance of people. Examples of such cases would be people fighting with security personnel to bring their household helps in the building, politicians celebrating birthdays (Karnataka MLA, BJP), political parties having victory meetings (Madhya Pradesh, BJP), political parties celebrating their foundation day (Karnataka, BJP), people bringing in household helps surreptitiously, deliberately roaming on the roads and picking up fight with police when they want them to remain in their homes, and so on.

All such cases should be severely condemned by the society and appropriate legal action should be taken quickly and with complete transparency.

  1. Due to ignorance and negligence

There may be any cases of people just inadvertently or in ignorance violate lockdown. Some of them may not have information and some others may be somewhat negligent. Such cases are likely to involve only individuals, and therefore, may not have big impact, however, that is by no means certain.

This kind of cases can be prevented only throw greater awareness. Ignorance may attract legal punishment but not moral sanction. Negligence attracts both.

  1. Due to deliberate religious reasons

Most of the cases of violation of lockdown and government orders fall under this category. They are not only most numerous, they also involve largest gatherings, and most persistent disregard for social safety. Some of the cases which immediately come in the mind are a Rath Yatra in Maharashtra, Yogi Adityanath moving Ram statue, two Telangana Ministers performing pooja in temples, Ramanavami gathering in Bengal, continued gathering for namaz (especially Friday) in Mosques, a gathering in a Jain temple, people having a dip in Golden Temple sarovar, and of course the most famous Tabilighi Jamaat event. There is unconfirmed news of many more such cases. The cases of attacks on police and health workers visiting certain localities also have been motivated, as per the unconfirmed news, by religious considerations. The latest in Punjab where a Nihang cut off hand of a police personnel; the most arrogant, fierce and gruesome so fat.

These cases are presenting and will continue to present the toughest challenge to the government. Most of them are adamant and think that religion is above the law. To my mind they need the most severe legal punishment and social condemnation. Unfortunately, the society is most fragmented on such cases. If you mention Rath Yatra or Ramavanami gathering some people will site Jamaat incident to defend them. If you mention the Jamaat some other people will site Rath Yatra to defend them. They use the crimes of others to seek immunity from legal action to commits of their own. They don’t site the other’s crime to punish him as well. Some other people even use case of the first three kinds to defend the fourth kind. This is gross stupidity to site a case of unavoidable necessity (migrant labourers) to justify a case of religious arrogance and violation.

The governments have to improve supplies of food and other necessary amenities to reduce the number of cases of first kind, and step up awareness programmes for the cases of third kind. The cases of second and fourth kind need very stern and prompt legal action against those who are found responsible. Leniency because of connections with powerful politicians or due to considerations for religions will encourage these people.

*****

13th April 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

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