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Course Correction or Committing Hara-kiri: COVID-19 Has Forced Us to Make a Choice

Family members perform last rites of a Covid-19 patient in Jalandhar. (PTI)

Family members perform last rites of a Covid-19 patient in Jalandhar. (PTI)

We seem to be as helpless, as susceptible, with thousands dying every day, as we were 100 years ago, during the Spanish Flu.

Not so long ago, when we used to read in history books about death of millions of people in pandemics like flu or plague or due to famines, we were made to think that these were events of a bygone era when human race was in the dark ages and technology was undeveloped or underdeveloped. We have now witnessed first, second, third and are in the middle of the fourth Industrial Revolution; we have taken giant strides in science and technology, and felt such events would not recur. Yet, the COVID pandemic proved this was wishful thinking. We seem to be as helpless, as susceptible, with thousands dying every day, as we were 100 years ago, during the Spanish Flu.

At the global level, no parameter seems to differentiate the impact of COVID on people— parameters on which we judge development of human race as a whole or an individual country, like per capita GDP, GDP of nations, breakneck processing speed, artificial intelligence, shrinking of travel time by building super expressways/ jets/ bullet trains, real-time remote connectivity through wireless data transmission (2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G and so on). The visuals are the same—be it in developed countries of Europe or America or the so-called laggard economies of Africa or Latin America or Asia—mass pyres, treatment on the streets for want of hospital beds, patients gasping for oxygen. If we are still destined to die like insects, what is this development aimed at.

However, human race has too big an ego to accept that it is treading on the wrong path. So, we will justify it by saying that we developed vaccines to counter the virus in less than a year; it has never happened this fast in human history. Yes, we did it fast but meanwhile the virus mutated—we are still counting the new strains, not sure on how many the vaccine will work, or for how long, when would we require boosters/repeat doses.

We are fond of talking about human history but we will never accept that it is minuscule compared to nature’s history, or that 70 per cent of the diseases we suffer from are zoonotic diseases, triggered by human-led destruction of nature and natural habitat, in the name of development. Or, that the path of development we are following is an inverted U model—first, destroy the nature and then recreate it artificially, commodifying it and in the process creating wealth for few but justifying it by averaging it and projecting it as per capita wealth.

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So, the development model destroys nature, new diseases emerge and then vaccines are produced, prophylactic and curative medicines are produced and sold to masses, who had no role in the destruction of nature but pay the price. Manufacturers and traders of medicine/vaccines make profits and the GDP increases. Traditional and natural therapy, including herbs, are ridiculed, looked down upon as backward practices, weaning the masses away from them, making them used to artificial nutrition and medicines. Then, the same ‘traditional and so-called backward therapy’ is repackaged and marketed as nutritional products as nutraceuticals to the gullible masses.

Traditional agriculture was destroyed in the name of increasing productivity and when that process destroyed the fertility of the top soil—soil productivity decreased, fertilizers/pesticides had harmful effects—the same age-old practice was repackaged under a new name, “organic farming”, making the produce premium, out of reach of the common people. Again, commodifying the once-abundantly available items, which were derided by the so-called modern practitioners, and repackaging them as organic pesticides and fertilisers and selling them back to farmers at a high price; the certifying agencies further making the process cumbersome for primary producers.

Human ego will not let us accept that we treaded the wrong path. So, the reversal to traditional practices is being masked as further development, because only then the premium can be earned and the national GDP can be increased. This development destroyed potable water, made it scarce—it was then repackaged and marketed as bottled water. Something as abundant as atmospheric air was poisoned and now even fresh air is on sale to premium classes, letting the masses die of diseases by inhaling the poisonous air.

Human ego is just too big to accept that the claim to tame the nature has gone wrong and the fury of devastating fires, unprecedented floods, drying rivers, melting glaciers are a result of the wrong developmental trajectory. So, it claims and makes everyone, especially those who are still at a lower point on this trajectory, believe that this destruction is inevitable and part and parcel of development; that they need not worry because the damage can be always mitigated. And then, to mitigate this damage, money is pumped into so-called new technology and new products, which obviously can’t recreate nature but benefit the few who commercialize that technology and trade in the new products. Again, wealth is produced and by averaging it, everyone is made to look richer.

Will the heart-wrenching visuals of families after families being wiped out, corpses lying for want of people to carry it to the flames or graves, living ones waiting for treatment and the dead waiting for pyres, wealthy and poor succumbing to a common disease make the human race pause and rethink where it went wrong, in its pursuit of greed and satisfaction of ego? Or, once the fury of the virus subsides and the lucky ones have protected themselves—or think they have by getting the jabs—we carry on with business as usual, following the inverted U model of destroying and repackaging?

One can only hope that this pandemic forces us to pause and reflect, to attempt a course-correction. Inability to do so will be nothing short of committing hara-kiri.

Disclaimer:The author is a senior IAS officer serving in Bihar. Views expressed are personal.

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first published:May 21, 2021, 17:04 IST