Covid-19 pandemic has shown that humans are not infallible and countries and communities are vulnerable and need to be prepared. Today, the virus is booming while the global economy goes into a deep recession. It appears that the current economic, social, religious and political developments in the world is determined by this tiny and invisible virus. The daily horror reports about the angry pandemic and its consequences like the migrant crisis are brought into our living room by social media. There is no shortage of information, analysis, research into causes and solutions, therapy tests and rules of conduct to avoid the infection and its dissemination.
Therefore, there is no need for further descriptions of the serious consequences of this pandemic. Instead, I want to highlight some lessons and trends from this crisis.
The pandemic reveals the helplessness of humanity in solving unexpected challenges. The human who believes to be the crown of creation has to be aware that he must reflect and recognize the limits of his power. The high pride combined with over-confidence has to give way to humility. This lesson is given to all people, no matter where and how they live; no matter how powerful or powerless they feel. The Corona crisis gives ample opportunity to ponder and reflect on the interpersonal relationships among mankind and nations.
But I keep asking myself, do we ever learn? The picture of a screaming naked girl, fleeing an area where napalm bombs were dropped during the Vietnam war in 1972 brought world’s attention to the horrors of war. The photo of a vulture waiting for a starving child to die, in the midst of the worst Sudanese famine in 1993, made even the stonyhearted world leaders to focus on famine. The image of three-year old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee whose body was washed ashore the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, made many European countries to take a relook at the fate of migrants. Now, in the midst of Covid menace, similar scenes are emerging in India. In a heart-wrenching picture of a toddler frantically trying to wake up his dead mother at a railway station in Bihar. The cry of a 70-year-old woman named Leelavati, alone, abandoned and beaten by her son, without money and food waiting at a Railway Station in Mumbai. The picture of a distressed migrant father holding the body of his diseased child on the platform of another railway station in Bihar. One picture is equivalent to thousand words, if we are willing to see through these pictures.
Mankind has even managed to land on the moon, lunched space flights and have made admirable technological achievements, but it is still far away from creating reliable living conditions for all people on this earth. It appears that we apply more destructive spirit than the will to save life. At times humans turn out to be the most dangerous virus for nature and fellow human beings. In the period from 1939 to 1945 alone, more than 70 million people were killed in the war.
More than 8000 children die every day, i.e. almost three million a year of hunger that acts like a deadly virus. Food is the vaccine against this virus. However, the poor are denied to receive these abundantly produced lifesaving resources for market reasons. There is no global excitement expressed in the event of starvation; because starvation affects the poor only. This is however, significantly different with the spread of the corona virus. Corona does not distinguish between rich and poor people and nations; everyone feels the pain of the pandemic in varying intensity. Some just couldn’t imagine that the tiny virus dared to attack them too. Attempts by some world leaders to trivialize Corona failed miserably because the virus is not interested in their conspiracy theories and stigma tactics. Those who came too late paid the price with life.
Corona changed the speed and direction of the globalization process. In this time of severe crisis, nations of the world feel their dependence on the supply of essential goods. The division of labour according to comparative cost advantages does not ensure the sustainability of self-sufficiency. When procuring protective masks during the corona crisis countries like Germany realize their dependence on China although the machines to produce such goods are exported from here. Similar was the case in the pharmaceutical market. This dependence is painfully noticeable even in the individual regions of the same country like India. Essential food items such as rice and vegetables have been supplied to the state of Kerala by other states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for decades. Northeast largely depend on rest of India for supply essential commodities. The pandemic has made us realize that we are all connected.
The Corona crisis has invited our attention to certain groups who have not been in the focus of public until now. For example, the medical staff in hospitals and ambulant services, as well as security personnel such as the police, fire brigades and service personnel, including the cleaning staff in hospitals, are working for the virus-infected patients undergoing highest risk. Being in constant touch with the infected patients the nursing staff takes the risk of self-infection. The nurses are now praised everywhere as angels. This recognition becomes credible only when there is a noticeable increase in their remuneration. The efforts of the doctors require grateful recognition. In the situations of significant shortage of respiratory equipment, some doctors even become selectors with the most questionable task of choosing patients for preferential treatment. The result ends with the earlier death of elderly persons in favour of saving younger life. The fate of the migrant workers from various federal states in India has been highlighted during the crisis. They are wrongly referred to as “guest workers” even though they are Indian citizens. The lockdown brings these labourers to the brink of hunger. The shocking pictures of families with elderly persons, pregnant women and kids who walk miles for miles in order to reach their home villages remain unforgettable in our minds.
The epidemic virus has directed our attention to the situation of students and workers in some business companies. In many schools and factories, the hygienic facilities are in a catastrophic state. The underdeveloped digital capacity in schools and industry was already known and the increased need for digital use during the crisis leads to the realisation that this severe deficit demands immediate attention. Many students are unable to use computers for ‘home schooling’ because they do not have computers or there is a lack of knowledge of electronic use. Children of poorer families are particularly affected. These revelations of the crisis are learning material for more effective planning in the future.
Without neglecting the dangerous consequences of the corona virus, on the positive side, due to the lockdown, less toxic chemicals flow into the waters of the rivers like Ganges, Yamuna and elsewhere. The climate is recovering a little better because of the low CO2 production. The air is becoming cleaner, breathing easier and a better view of cities like Delhi because of less pollution. Corona gives practical lessons to those who deny the influence of CO2 on climate change.
In the crisis, people experience very concretely that life can also be meaningfully designed with just lesser goods and luxury. We recognize for example: “small is beautiful”, the happiness of the newlyweds is not dependent on the shows with an overwhelming number of wedding guests, belief and spirituality can also be lived without institutionalized rites and dogmatic adherence to traditional customs.
Although the term “social distance” is misleading, people experience that the physical distance in no way hinders nearness. During this crisis, elder people in particular experience the solidarity of their neighbours, whom they had never even known until then. Enriching and grateful solidarity and encounters with hearts, eyes and smiles are also taking place.
A mushroom farmer in Delhi, Pappan Singh Gehlot brought air tickets for 10 of his stranded farm workers which enabled them to make their ‘dream journey’ to Patna, and reach their homes in remote Bihar villages. Amid the encircling darkness of inhumanity, this farmer’s action comes out as a silver lining and sends out the message of hope to the world.
Actor Sonu Sood has been at the forefront of relief efforts as he sends migrants to their homes amid coronavirus pandemic. He has proved that to be a real hero, one need not be a Khan, Khanna or a Kapoor. You just need to have a heart of gold and a vision to help the needy and the most vulnerable. When one of Sonu’s fan’s tweeted, “One who has struggled in life can understand another person’s pain. Sonu Sood once would travel the local train with a pass worth Rs 420,” Sonu retweeted it and wrote, “Life is a full circle.” The 46-year-old actor, known largely for playing villains in films like Simmba and Dabangg, is being hailed as a real-life hero.
The virus like Covid-19 in and around us shall not be given again a chance to determine and rule our lives, but the lessons learned from this crisis should be heeded. Recently, I heard these words of Dean Karnazes quoted by a Guest in NDTV, “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” Everything has its time and everything conveys a message for further learning. Let’s learn the lessons and become better, wiser and victorious!