*Trigger Warning: Covid Death*
The devastation that we see ourselves surrounded by in India is not impersonal anymore. It is at a scale unimaginable and unseen in recent memory. And we are helpless. Helpless in front of the calamity and vulnerable in front of this vast autocratic state.
We are yet again clueless. As a nation-state, we have again found ourselves unguarded, underprepared, if not wholly unprepared. The sight of the horror does not appear to be seizing. And by the time it does, the catastrophe that it will lay bare will be enigmatic.
The divides have fallen at the feet of tragedy. It renders one speechless. I wish I were not right in the last post. In hindsight, I would want to erase those words. Or let it be, as a testimony, a testimony to our collective mourning.
The slope to fate is an easy recourse. It is convenient to say that this crisis is the wrath of gods. Our lives are getting sacrificed at the fire altar. We are atoning for our sins. Even if it were true, it does not devolve responsibility. To argue about human fate is to undermine the power that humans exercise on the planet. In the same breath, it is a leap into an unsubstantiated conclusion that this pandemic is nature’s wrath without concluding evidence.
There are two “apparent” theories about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. It may have been natural, in the sense that it is a pathogen that jumped from bats to humans via an intermediary species. But this natural leap, even if not a conjecture, is not beyond human interference. Another theory may have been an accident out of a lab allegedly funded by the U.S. situated in Wuhan, China, which pretty much makes it human-made.
However, there are attentions needed much more on urgent matters at hand. It is not the time to set the responsibilities of the developed world. The capacities of India are globally exposed. The value of human life is being revealed.
In 2004, a reasonably confident India had adopted the policy to not take foreign aid in the aftermath of Tsunami relief work. On the same grounds, the Centre refused foreign aid from UAE in 2018 for flood-ravaged Kerala, which counted over 480 deaths. The sight of foreign assistance is also a reminder of how essential, how basic are the supplies of assistance. We were in 2015 celebrating the symbolic appeal for reparations in Oxford Union.
This is not to suggest nothing is happening. There is a highly insensitive colonial legacy at work. And we have our medical, scientific and technological infrastructure capacities that we have built over the decades. It, too, is insufficient. More surprisingly, it took us a Pandemic to realise how grave these gaps are and how heinous, how cruel! We witnessed the value of human life.
Nothing absolutely shocked us. No lynchings, no riots, no blatant and ugly use of state force, no attacks on students, no attacks on eminent universities, no arrests of intellectuals and activists, no discrediting of protests, no hollowing of parliamentary procedures, no misuse of central agencies, no compromise of constitutional bodies, no arbitrary policy announcements, no atrocities, no plight, no hate, no slander.
Not even the detention of a doctor, Kafeel Khan, in UP under NSA, as a punitive action, for whistleblowing the death of 60 children due to lack of oxygen. Nothing affected us. There was a celebration of a projected self-image of a grand Hindu-state. The same state proclaimed its victory in unsympathetic gloating at the World Economic Forum’s Davos dialogue in 2021.
Whatever we pontificate, it is undeniable that we have done too little too late. India is dying, and it is no hyperbole anymore. But, wait, India Today (pun intended) does not know where to put the blame, at least on its cover.
It is reassuring to see that they know the answer. We all do. But at the same time, we act as if we do not. Why? I wonder. No reasoning seems justified. Maybe what we mean by the unsaid is that it is not criminal but a matter of mere oversight, negligence, accidental, if one may. It is to suggest stupidity of sorts, hard to admit.
We had become Vishwa Guru. Stupidity seems too banal for one. Probably, the gravest stupidity is to consider people stupid. How the world saw our national stupidity is well recorded in the global press. One of the most iconic political theorists, Hannah Arendt, saw evil as banal. It is everyday thoughtlessness that she witnessed in the modern Nazi state of Germany at that point in history as evil. Evil, which reminds us of a cultural memory of crime against humanity that had to be defined in International Law for the first time.
It is alarming that the mathematically predicted death toll of 1 million by August, which is not what deaths are mere, brings back the ghost of the past. How banal if we do not know who to and why to put politically accountable. It may be because “political” is reduced to an entertaining game of win and lose.
If the recently held Bengal elections were anything, then it was a gladiatorial contest, as grand as it could be. The colosseum was missing. But it kept us ignorantly unaware, for a while, as the Romans would have felt amidst the chaos of plague, wars and political instability.
We lack political consciousness for historical reasons, or it was systemically undermined with the help of an ancillary media ecosystem what many would call mass propaganda. It is based on the assumption that people are fools and can be misled like mindless animals. Saving one’s self-image so seems urgent than saving lives.
As if power can create alternate realities. As if the horror of every day can be forgotten. As if the loss of a loved one and the lingering pain of never having to see the deceased’s face one last time can be erased. The sheer arrogance of power, vainglory and schadenfreude. Moreover, it is not so difficult to imagine. This stupidity is banal. And, for a mindless power, it is not unthinkable.
This travesty of our time may never have a finality. Memories will send shivers down the spine for generations.