TW: Mention of Covid deaths
Think of a time in pre-Covid India when people were somewhat empathetic towards the news of deaths that used to appear in the media. If not empathetic, at least people were sympathetic towards them. This culture of kindness, love or sympathy towards ‘others’, with whom we share no relation except as citizens of the same nation, was an important element in maintaining cohesion among members of the society.
But this got a huge blow with the Covid crisis. Today, with the normalisation of the loss of lives every day, deaths have become just numbers. Normalisation of any unfavourable phenomenon will have a deteriorating impact on society. A typical example would be the normalisation of a patrilocal practice (of a couple settling in the husband’s home or community) after marriage. Though accepted by everyone in our society, the practice is clearly a manifestation of patriarchy and left unnoticed. Thus, normalisation of any bad phenomenon should be thrown out at the initial stage itself.
Of course, we feel bad when the number of Covid cases increase and feel better when the number of Covid-related deaths decrease. But this relaxation never equals the empathy we possessed in pre-Covid times. Though this shift is not any individual’s fault, it is important to understand this psychological shift.
Empathy, as the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, promotes kindness among people. When you understand the suffering of the kith and kin of a person who has lost their life in an accident, you won’t drive your vehicle fast. So, in a way, empathy encourages one to be more responsible. But in the case of Covid, deaths become so large in number that the qualitative aspects of the loss of lives gets overlooked.
The recent Kumbh Mela crowd is the best example to prove this point. Apart from other reasons, there was an element of empathy attributed to the huge crowd. If people in the Kumbh Mela had understood the sufferings of a Covid-affected family, the crowd would have been much lesser despite the irresponsible governance and hyper religiosity it is surrounded by. But people had only seen Covid-related deaths in numbers.
The recent election campaigns in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal saw huge crowds surrounding the faces of popular parties. The Election Commission failed in strictly directing the parties to reduce the crowd in rallies. But why wasn’t there an all-party consensus among the political parties themselves in these election states to limit the crowd?
Firstly, it is the duty of the political party to ensure safety of its people, as every political party is competing to come to power. But in this power race, no party is ready to care for the people. Here comes the role of empathy in ensuring the safety of people. Had these political parties understood the sufferings of a Covid-affected family, an all-party consensus would have been reached before the elections. But during campaigning, people are seen in terms of the number of votes, overlooking the qualitative aspect of one’s life.
In both the above cases of a festival and election, the lack of empathy towards the affected society reduces the social cohesion within. This ultimately alienates the marginalised section of society, who are always the first victim of any crisis.
Apart from the above cases, today, every one of us views Covid death as a number, though it’s not an individual’s fault. As said above, the normalisation of deaths makes this shift in us. These huge numbers instil fear in us, but not empathy. Fear can deter us from being infected with the virus, but empathy can do more than that. To understand this, let us ask ourselves some questions regarding the effects that the pandemic will have on the post-Covid world:
What’s going to be the future of the large number of children who lost their parent(s) in the Covid crisis?
How will parents who lost their children due to Covid cope up with the loss?
What about the fate of school drop-outs because of Covid?
What will be the ripple effect of Covid for daily-wage earners, those in the informal sector or migrants?
There are many questions that the post-Covid India will answer over time.
In every crisis — be it floods, droughts or pandemics — the most affected people are always the ones who are already suffering the most. All socially, educationally and economically backward classes suffer a lot in every crisis. These people are always alienated from society after every crisis. The section of the population who needs the most support from the State is often left in the development process of the country. With the loss of empathy among people, this further aggravates the situation.
There were many steps that the government should take to mitigate the sufferings of the above-mentioned people in a post-Covid world. But what can we as society do? The post-Covid world needs a society that is more empathetic and kind to each other. Let us come out of the number game when it comes to Covid deaths and try to understand the suffering of the people whose lives or livelihoods have been affected due to the pandemic. It’s not that you should always think about the suffering of others, instead, try to understand for once the situation from the point of view of those affected by the crisis.
Thus, understanding how the post-Covid world will be and the importance of empathy will make a huge difference in the attitude of people. This, in turn, will lead to a more cohesive society with narrow inequality that cares for each other.
Note: This article was originally published here.