COVID-19: Learning and Unlearning (By Prabhakar Timble)

By Prabhakar Timble
14 April 2020 07:06 IST

Covid-19 brought a spectacular overturn in the life of all. The world was forced to realign itself through a total lockdown. None has witnessed such a reverse movement in world history. Growth and development became obsolete strategies in just a span of few days. Home quarantine, masks and social distancing sprung up as the buzzwords. Each household was gripped with fear and worry. The Indian Prime Minister expressed it saying “Jaan Hai Toh Jahan Hai” (If we have life, we have everything). With fears about the pandemic multiplying geometrically, people readily accepted any strategy that the government adopted. This is now, the fourth week of intimidation and unpredictability with little transparency of what’s in store ahead.

Such an atmosphere of panic and worry is beneficial for political rulers to act like a king and the people are willing to gift the crown on such occasions. Rulers know to milk such moments by creating striking metaphors and figurative gesticulations that dazzle the people. This is the time when millions follow the leader blind-fold; millions defend the rulers and fight like recruits in the army. Once a leader gives any call, however stupid, people are prepared to execute the calling. As people and followers turn imbeciles, the environment turns most congenial for cult leaders. Democracy and democratic culture becomes the worst casualty when popular politics goes into the hands of sectarian leadership. Columnist Shekhar Gupta provides these insights whilst commenting on ‘Modi and his politics of messaging’ by drawing the analogy with the Blue Whale game. Though a pastime where the recruiter assigns simple tasks to the recruits and gives them a sense of orientation and belonging, it ends up as a mind control weapon. Such a play with people’s fantasies receives admiration as the life is harsh and distressing.

In such emergencies like Coronovirus, undoubtedly the nation should stand together. The virus being pandemic, it is natural for all nations to be jointly on one single platform. Cult leaders and their followers tend to grab such emergencies as opportunities to strengthen their agendas. Solidarity expressions made to bring all the people together got reduced to majoritarian assertions in the country. Social media warriors converted the simple tasks assigned by the Prime Minister into events of bashing minorities, migrants and political opposition. For the followers of the cult leader, it was also a prospect of hero-worship. The cult leader played the politics well.

Lockup and lockdown is a comfort for the privileged and the organized classes. Millions cannot afford this luxury of home. That’s the reason why we observe police beating up citizens and rounding up people seen at public places. These are the migrants, labor, slum dwellers and the marginalized. They somehow attempt to gather their bare minimum subsistence either in cash or kind.  For those voluntarily jailed at home, they are lockdown violators, social parasites and unfit to be in democratic India. Many who watch the re-telecast of Ramayana and Mahabharata sitting in the comfort of their drawing rooms even pray for strict punishment to these unfortunate people.

Covid-19 has imprisoned us. It will set us free from this incarceration in a few months from now. We are also evolving new paths to pursue learning, careers and economic activities. Researchers and scientists will stitch an effective vaccination for this dreaded pandemic. The world may witness another breakthrough in technology to tackle and adapt to such emergencies.  In due course, life will be as usual.

The race of greed kept on pause will get activated automatically. The currently muted voices of hate and suspicion against the minorities will muster confidence to spit venom. Regional chauvinists will increase the volume of tirade against migrants who actually are providing utility services to the locals and also accelerating the economic multiplier of the region. Innovations will once again prosper in all spheres of human endeavor. The thirst to learn the mysteries of nature and explore the universe will engage the human mind. Bureaucrats will be back to their seats of authority. Politicians will revert back to their games. Writers, poets, thinkers and men from the art world will get engrossed to add color and spice to life as well as raising the alarm wherever necessary.

This reminds me of a board at the entrance of a cemetery ---“Aiz mhaka, Falyan tuka” (It’s me today, it’s you tomorrow). None of the mortals who read attempt to imbibe the value wrapped in this immortal message. If Covid-19 can teach the human society the essence of compassion and the merit of community brotherhood irrespective of religion, caste, region and economic status, it would be worth the days spent in quarantine and lockdown. The warriors of pseudo patriotic causes and narrow regional interests should learn the lesson of empathy towards migrants, minorities and marginalized. Post-Covid years should reinforce our commitment to secular democracy, egalitarian economy and social responsibility in India. All are paying very high school fees to learn from this pandemic. Let us not fritter away the sacrifices, losses and agony of people without basic learnings. 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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