Why are we helpless in the face of this pandemic?

Rohit Dhankar

I don’t have all the data and needed information. But whatever information I get through newspapers and social media, I seem to be making forming beliefs, mostly with help from some speculation. Just wanted to share some of those half-formed beliefs, in order to prevent serious mistake through public scrutiny.

This is well recognized that we know much less about the pandemic than is needed to contain or stop it. But that is the character of pandemics and calamities, it cannot be sighted as a ‘reason why’ for helplessness. Containing a pandemic simply means containing an unknown evil.

The first and foremost reason is the ineptness, inefficiency and wrong priorities of the central government, and state governments as well. And that is irrespective of which party is in power. This is natural for the citizens to apportion the largest share of the blame on the central government, and that is justified at the moment. The central government is the biggest culprit.

The second reason to my mind is the abysmal state of our health and all other governing systems. In normal times all government systems function more on tokenism and pretension than actually realizing the professed goals. The work is done mostly on the paper, and the real world remains as it was. That has been the character of government departments. Then they suddenly want to start serious real work when the calamity hits them. And, as is natural, everything collapses. The present central government is in power for more than 6 years and was expected by many people to change this character at the least of the central government departments. It completely failed in doing it. One wonders if they ever wanted to make them better functioning.

The third reason, we are a divided country and society. We are not putting all efforts for defeat the pandemic, simply because we first want to defeat a hated man, who is the prime minister. There is a ring in the air from some quarters, particularly on the social media, that the worst the situation, more the opportunity to heap abuse on Modi and BJP, irrespective of the cost to people. Some people will object to it. But there are too many people who are attacking it for everything for justified and unjustified reasons, and attacking viciously. Using completely unjustified terminologies like ‘deliberate genocide’ etc. to poison public mind. Another set of people is continuously defending government irrespective of its failure, however big its blunders might be. Neither of these sets is using their energy to help the society in containing the pandemic. The opposition is much more interested in ‘Modi should go’ than putting the issue on the back burner and fighting the problem for the time being. The opinion makers and intellectuals—supposed to be the conscience keeper of the society—are the worst afflicted by this morally crippling intellectual disease. Most of them seem to be incurable by now.

Fourth, we as a society lack civic responsibility. Many still don’t get it that preventive precautions in a pandemic is not entirely a personal choice. It has a selfish side of personal safely and survival. But also has a moral side of not becoming a danger to others. Behaviour of many people in public spaces is proof enough that the second aspect has not registered in the social consciousness yet.  

Above I said that the government is the biggest culprit because in a democracy the government is also responsible for all the other problems in the society. Improving the system, taking the opinion making intellectuals along and developing civic responsibility are also government’s responsibilities, up to a certain extent. However, there always be some people in the society who will act on the evil thought that “my enemy should definitely become blind even if I have to lose one eye in the bargain”. The government’s responsibility for such people is double edged. One, it should try to bring them to reason through persuasion. It they are too bent upon this evil idea; they should be exposed to the public. Here a war of perception may be necessary. If a government fails in both then it has only itself to blame, and the common citizen bears the burnt of its failure.

And at the end, a small story from black rustic humour, even if it is somewhat inappropriate in such a situation. In Hindi, don’t want to translate it into English.

दो जाट (जाटों से माफी चाहते हुए) भाइयों में बहुत प्रतिस्पर्धा और झगड़ा चल रहा था। दोनों ही बहुत धनवान नहीं थे। किसी कारण से एक के पास शिव आए। (क्यों आए थे कहानी में मैं भूल गया हूँ।) शिव ने जाट से कहा की तुम तीन वरदान मांग सकते हो। जो कुछ भी तुम चाहो। पर शर्त यह है कि तुम्हारे भाई को जो तुम अपने लिए मांगोगे उस से दुगुना मिलेगा। जाट मान गया, और नीचे लिखे तीन वरदान मांगे:

  1. “भगवन, मेरे लिए एक बड़ा-सा महल बनादे, जिसके चारों और बहुत ऊंची दीवार हो और उस में सिर्फ एक फाटक हो।” (शिव ने तुरंत ऐसा ही महल उसे के लिए बना दिया, पर उसके भाई के लिए दो बना दीते।)
  2. “भगवन, मेरे महल के फाटक में एक 400 फीट गहरा कुआं खोद दे।” (शिव ने तुरंत उसके फाटक को पूरा कवर कराते हुए एक कुआं खोद दिया। पर उसके भाई के दोनों महलों के फाटकों में दो-दो खोद दिये।)
  3. आखिर में जाट ने कहा, “भगवन, मेरी एक आँख फोड़ दे।” (शिव ने तुरंत जाट की एक आँख फोड़ दी, पर उसके भाई की दोनों ही फोड़ दी।)

Rest of the story depends on your imagination. But look around you if you find many of us being governed by this kind of Jaat-buddhi.

(I gain apologize to Jaats. I have neither any malice towards them, not do I think that they have this kind of buddhi. Here I retained the caste name as I have heard this story or joke originally simply because it seems to me that a better way to grow beyond casteism etc. is without attempting to exorcise our literature of its time-stamps. We have to rationally grow out of the biases without wiping out signs of historical wrongs, as they also record our history of moral and intellectual development as a society.)


18th May 2021

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