Towards a new awakening
As the world scrambles to contain COVID-19, the pandemic has many lessons on governance and human lifestyles which will remain long after the contagion subsides
Though pandemics have hit the world earlier too, COVID-19 acquires greater significance as it engulfs the world, causing havoc in the best times of our civilisation, the 21st century. No breakthrough on a remedy is visible in the horizon as yet. Infections crossed six digits and deaths occurred in thousands all over. Nobody could ever predict that one-day human beings will have to live in trepidation, holed up in their homes, with little hope of escape from a virus. The devastation has impacted the economy and the governments are fighting hard to grapple with the crisis. Lockdown and social distancing methods, the world over are said to be the only remedies, at least for now. Today, people across the globe have waived off their basic civil liberties in order to live. Though hopefully the virus will vanish from the earth at the earliest as its predecessors did, we have nevertheless a few takeaways in the process.
To begin with, this pandemic has driven home the point that in a global village that we live in today, the health of human beings is not just a local responsibility but a trans-geographical concern. Any lapse in the dissemination of factual information at the right time can have catastrophic consequences, putting millions of lives at stake. For the sake of humanity, countries need to rise above local patriotism and share complete information with the rest of the world and circulate proper advisories to warn of any possible pandemic. The UN (not exclusively the WHO) perhaps will have to draw up new protocols prescribing responsible conduct by member nations in this regard.
COVID-19 has also taught us that cooperation between nations, in all possible areas, in crises of this magnitude is indispensable. India's initiative in supplies of Hydroxychloroquine medicine to the US, Israel and Iran is a shining example. Similarly, all nations took timely steps to protect not only their citizens but also tourists and other nationals in their territory by providing necessary treatment and shelter. This is a noble gesture of human sentiment embodying the message that we are one world. People of all nations would do well to foster this feeling of fraternity, irrespective of colour, race or creed.
We also have learnt, that no disease may be taken for granted and even as measures to discover a remedy is on, steps towards prevention cannot be ignored or delayed. Some nations in the west apparently were lenient in rising to the occasion at the appropriate time or else they could have prevented thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of cases. India wasted no time in protecting its citizens as it clamped down with a complete lockdown across the country even as a few hundred positive cases began surfacing amid its billion-strong population. The strategy worked and the pandemic failed to penetrate beyond a minuscule proportion. The world will have to learn from India that timely action to prevent the disease is more fruitful than plunging into damage control operations after cases are already spiralling out of control.
The Indian experience of the crisis offers many other lessons too. For the first time, all political parties, pushing their political agenda aside, conveyed solidarity with the Union government in the battle against COVID-19. Similarly, all state governments, rising above local priorities, fought shoulder to shoulder alongside the Central government in stalling the invasive forward movement of the Coronavirus. Almost all states paid heed to the Centre and extended their fullest cooperation. This has reinforced the unquestionable faith in the Republic of India as one nation, reassuring our collective belief in cooperative federalism. We may have a whole lot of differences or issues to settle but in times of national crisis, we are second to none in protecting our nation and its people. This is a truth that is often unknown to ourselves and has now come to the surface thanks to COVID-19. We all must learn that this is the only way forward for us even in addressing other critical issues.
The lockdown has, of course, taken away our personal freedoms for a while but at the same time, we got a few revelations. Firstly, people could redefine their precious life when they were unexpectedly flooded with plenty of free time at home. The family togetherness reminded people of what they were missing all along in the pursuit of 'success', the bliss of physically experiencing the emotional bond of family. Secondly, the lockdown has revealed the often-forgotten truth of life that human beings are equal irrespective of birth, gender, faith or culture. The virus spared no one irrespective of race, caste or faith, sending a profound message that universal brotherhood is the only key to human existence. Its time to nurture love in place of hatred.
COVID-19 has also taught us that death is inevitable if people disregard medical sciences and embrace unscientific or superstitious ways of living. The illiterate, the educated, the young and the old, all sections of people now realise the value of personal hygiene. Such mass awareness would have been impossible otherwise. The crisis has also taught us how to be compassionate to the needy and the less fortunate. Various charity institutions and spiritual organisations have volunteered for the duty of providing free meals to the poor and stranded across the country, sending a message that service to mankind is service to god. The Gurudwara Management Committee of Delhi alone is feeding more than a lakh people a day.
A sense of accountability is evident in the midst of fear of death. Doctors, nurses, paramedical personnel and sanitation workers are seen engaged round the clock in hospitals away from their families and risking their lives. The district collectors and police officers are spending sleepless nights in ensuring safety and security of people. The trust in state machinery is reinforced as public cooperation is voluntarily extended by all sections in return for the care and protection offered. The take away is that people not only have rights to enjoy but also a responsibility to cooperate with the state to preserve the body entity of a nation. Finally, today we are experiencing fresh air, birds and butterflies on the roads and rivers flowing with clean water. The virus has also made us realise indirectly how our greed for wealth and prosperity has damaged mother nature. Sooner or later, like many pandemics in the past, COVID-19 too will pass off. All the same, it has reminded us of universal virtues like social responsibility, compassion, cooperation, belief in equality and healthy living which can make this world a happier place. The lessons will hopefully help bring about an awakening towards a better world with a better future.
The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are strictly personal