Silver lining in dark clouds
In the gloomy discourse surrounding the unfolding Coronavirus tragedy, stories of selfless and heroic emergency service providers are inspirational to society at large
The world has been in the crippling throes of an unknown, unseen and still scientifically-unfathomable challenge that has made an utter mockery of the societal and political urgencies that dominated our conscience, just a few months back. From its mysterious genesis in the Chinese city of Wuhan to the spiraling death count in Italy and the escalating crisis in New York – the world is united in grief as unprecedented disaster tears apart our societal mores, administrative norms and governance styles. Humanity has not known a more devastating leveler that delegitimises its man-made borders, ideologies, religions, affiliations or other 'divides', that defined our individuality in a meaningless way. It is only humanity in its collective sense that will either rise to the challenge and save itself, or the hubris of differentiation will sink us inevitably. We must address this Coronavirus responsibly, sensitively and by going the extra mile, for each other and ourselves.
India has not been spared the horrors of this global pandemic. This has necessitated certain administrative decisions that have fundamentally disrupted the normalcy of our lives. Like the rest of the world, we may eventually triumph but the price that the many 'nameless, shirtless and the roofless' would have paid to emerge out of it, will leave us scarred for posterity. In every crisis, the monopoly on the scarce resources lies with those in power, affluence or administration of the situation. Such a situation always tests our morality and commitment to the various formal and informal oaths of allegiance that we swear as citizens. The medical fraternity is one such domain that is tirelessly pushing itself to its extreme limits of physical abilities and to the most sacred element of the Hippocratic oath i.e., 'to treat the ill to the best of one's ability'. Stories abound of the doctors, nurses, paramedics, ambulance drivers and hospital staff working under the most unsafe, inhospitable and gruelling conditions that keep these warriors fighting against the Coronavirus menace just a step away from succumbing to the same themselves. No amount of symbolic claps or beating of drums is enough justice or gratitude, as they need medical wherewithal for the much required-testing, patient care medicaments, infrastructure and above all, basic protection for themselves on the frontline. Another thankless and often misunderstood job is that of the law-enforcers i.e., the policing fraternity, who put themselves to great risks in lockdown situations that medically warrants staying-at-home, away from potential infection.
Indeed there have been disturbing videos of ostensible police high-handedness in enforcing the lockdown, however, the other truth of India's undisciplined, untamed and unconcerned citizenry in crises like these, remains ignored. The overall civic negligence and casualness with which the citizenry reacted to the lifting of the temporary 'shutdowns', was irresponsibility and sheer contempt of our basic responsibilities to our communities, families and thereby to ourselves. In such a large populace with a derisive attitude towards governmental advisories, it becomes imperative for the law enforcers to shift gears from general 'advising' to specific 'enforcing'. While it is easy to paint these enforcers as villainous brutes, it is important to remember that they are only enforcing what is essentially decided by the administrators and not by them. Often, the politicians and administrators knowingly promise the undeliverable yet it is only the policeman's job on the line to deliver the same. This results in a natural tension that very often and unfairly, posits the policeman against the citizens that he or she has taken an oath to protect.
Amidst these gloomy and despairing times, came a snippet on NDTV about a Deputy Superintendent of Police of Chandigarh Police, Dilsher Singh Chandel, who instinctively chose humanity and selflessness in the normal course of his duty. A gut-wrenching story of a poverty-stricken family in one of the outlying villages in Le Corbusier's idyll had its proverbial 'last straw' moments with the financially debilitating lockdown and the family in a heartbreakingly hopeless moment, decided to end it with suicide. DSP Dilsher Singh rushed to the spot and assuaged the broken family and immediately gave Rs 1,000 of his own and asked the local SHO to provide whatever possible to ensure their sustenance and survival with dignity. DSP Dilsher Singh is an unintentional superhero who wears the 'Khaki' with much élan, pride and responsibility, that demolishes the lazy perception of the policing fraternity. A purely auto-instinctive act of humanity and service to his revered institution is reassuring in such times of vulnerability. It turns out that the barrel-chested DSP Dilsher Singh is a former paratrooper of the Indian Army who has the rare honour of affixing the para 'wings' onto his police uniform – much like his equally impressively-built father, also a proud paratrooper of the Indian Army did.
Service to the nation must have been instilled in the warrior, as a natural recourse and upbringing but there are many more like him, albeit unrecognised and faceless, at the forefront of trying to maintain law and order in as practical a way, as they can, given the magnitude of the crisis and 'promises' made.
Every war begets heroes and superheroes and when the dust on the war against the deadly Coronavirus storm has died down, we owe enormous gratitude to those who stood firm against the storm, be it in the white medical-capes or the khaki uniforms. No more condescending platitudes and generalities, as it is incumbent to remember that these heroes stood out in the rubble, not because of how the nation empowered them but despite that. The entire ecosystem of governance needs to be more responsive, realistic and planned, the political rhetoric and passions aside, the reality of this crisis should awaken the citizenry towards demanding more clarity, maturity and sensitivity from our political classes, administrative arms and even ourselves. A wake-up call looms as we may just survive this crisis but if we don't change for posterity, we may not get another chance.
The writer is the former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. Views expressed are strictly personal