Pandemics are complicated emergencies. The Covid-19 pandemic attests to it. It has spiralled into an epoch-making humanitarian catastrophe and not just a public health emergency. Our political, economic and psychological structures have collapsed. It is the writing on the wall that we live in the Anthropocene, a period in which the geological, hydrological, bio-geochemical and atmospheric cycles of the earth have been deeply adversely altered by human activities.
We simply choose to turn a blind eye to all signs of alarm. Social distance is one prevention measure, which implies keeping a physical distance with people in and around us to avoid the spread of an infectious disease, and all the affected nations are pursuing social distance in the pandemic to prevent further spreading. This has resulted in productivity to some degree, but with lockdowns all around, people face problems such as anxiety and loneliness.
But the question is, is social distance really drawing us apart? Let’s go back to the pre-corona days, when things were more ‘normal’. Perhaps, we were physically linked, but how mentally connected were we? Not like the way we are now, maybe. If we sociologically examine the act of ‘social-distancing’, isn’t it a new type of untouchability?
Of course, yes. Earlier in Indian society, after the Vedic period, the upper castes used to maintain social distance with untouchables so as to not impure themselves. In the same trend, as individuals are asked to retain social distance, all constitutional norms that discourage untouchability and encourage integration seem to have failed in contemporary society because of Covid-19.
The influence of the coronavirus has been a lot and not just limited to society at large. Both rural and urban economies have been adversely affected by an economic perspective. Upper caste people have realised the importance of basic necessities in their lives, while lower caste people, on the other hand, are hungry for food.
As the upper caste people recognised the value of it, they began sharing their surplus money and food with the poor. Many individuals have come forward to help the poor to survive this pandemic. But the future for both the castes is clearly highly unpredictable. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing lockdown has impacted the lives of some of the most marginalised populations in the world, including migrant workers, waste pickers, single mothers, artisans and sex workers.
Non-profit organisations are sending appeals for funds to buffer the effect of the recession on these industries and ensure their access to necessities. There are many NGOs, charities and private institutions who are working for this cause to help you support these initiatives and link you with efforts on the ground.
‘1MillionMeals’ is one of the campaigns launched to aid people in the pathetic circumstances during the janta curfew. Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, introduced the campaign in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that deprived families obtain food and dry rations. A distress call was received by Gupta from a 12-year-old living in a red-light area in Delhi: “Didi, kuch kijiye, hum log bhooke hai, humein khana nahin mil raha hai (Sister, please do something, we’re starving and we don’t have any food).”
Gupta was galvanised into action by this distress call. She immediately asked a friend to arrange for the delivery of 500 fast meals. This movement subsequently spread to different cities including Delhi and Kolkata. People in red light areas of these cities were served food packets.
Apne Aap has distributed 140,000 relief parcels in Delhi, Bihar and Kolkata with private donations, according to Gupta. In Kolkata alone, New Light, Basu says, has reached more than 1,500 families. Rice, flour, pulses, spices, tea, milk powder, onions and potatoes are included in the packets, just enough to feed a family of four for two weeks, along with hygiene products.
Much of the assistance came from unlikely quarters: small-scale companies and merchants who didn’t want anything in return, not even a social media reference. She says these people will sell a thousand pairs of shoes to migrants returning home or anything else that they would need, with just one call. They will, therefore, along with the food, pack tarpaulin and other supplies to help people solve the crisis. Within 100 days, over five million meals were served through the programme. And as cases of coronavirus surge, the journey continues and complexity remains.
Gupta’s initiative spread more on social media by word of mouth and with celebrities such as celebrity chef Vikas Khanna and actor Abhay Deol talking about it. Through all this, we may claim that in order to survive this crisis, the upper caste people supported the lower caste people. Throughout the pandemic, they served selflessly. Even merchants and other citizens of the middle-caste did their bit for the poor, as mentioned above. Thus, for every upper caste person, this pandemic has opened their eyes so that they feel thankful for the things they have in their lives.
Both upper and lower caste individuals were able to survive this pandemic with each other’s encouragement. We may now argue that this social distancing brought together all the castes and resulted in our country’s better future and prosperity.
Please visit this link to know more about the 1MillionMeals campaign.
By: Ahmedabad University Students