Times have changed. It’s not often that we come together as a community and look after each other for a common good. As I write, more than a third of humanity is under lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We know the virus is much more severe for the elderly, and those suffering from a chronic illness are especially at risk. Those who do not have a compromised immune system have a responsibility to protect those who do. The immediate and tangible threat of the coronavirus pandemic is demonstrating the fact that we cannot survive without a community. It’s making us realise the truth in the old cliché- humans are made of stardust - we were always bound together.
The long period of isolation has given us an opportunity to reconsider who we are and what we value. Never had I imagined I would need a nationwide lockdown to hear the birds chirping in my balcony or to simply awe at the beautiful night sky in all its glory.
However, for the poor and marginalised, the chirping birds are a cacophony and the clear night sky an endless expanse of gloom. For them, buying masks, sanitisers and eating healthy is a costly choice. The pandemic has laid bare the ills of a capitalist society. Globalisation and capitalism has turned the services we need as commodities that require payment, the access to which is only possible if we are privileged. The urge to hoard commodities stems from that very insecurity that comes from the arrogance of the capitalist mind.
While the Indian government has announced relief packages for the poor, it will only come to fruition if it reaches them when they need it the most. Thousands of migrant workers who have been thrown out of work have taken the road to reach their homes, unaware that they will ever make it alive. For them it’s not the virus that will kill them but the lack of basic human necessities like food and shelter. It’s ironic that it has taken a virus for us to realise how important it is to consider providing a universal basic income to ensure money for the jobless in India.
The pandemic is questioning the very nature of access to essentials that the poor are often deprived of. They do not have the luxury of stocking up on basic supplies. This clearly reeks of privilege and status, and makes us rethink the notion of individualism and a society driven by profit, a society where financial success is a common worldview. As one of the greatest thinkers of all time J Krishnamurti says: “The moment you speak from status, you are actually destroying the human relationship. Status implies power, and when you are seeking this, consciously or unconsciously, you enter a world of cruelty. You have a great responsibility, and if you take this total responsibility, which is love, then the roots of the self are gone. This is not said as an encouragement or to make you feel that you must do this, but as we are all human beings, representing the whole of mankind, we are totally and wholly responsible, whether we choose to be or not.”
We will come out of this crisis sooner or later. Let’s hope we come out as responsible, sensitive human beings who learn to co-exist. Better times are ahead.