COVID-19 WILL DEEPEN DI­VI­SIONS IN SO­CI­ETY

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - SUNDAYCOMM­ENT - KARAN THA­PAR Karan Tha­par is the au­thor of Devil’s Ad­vo­cate: The Un­told Story The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

What does learn­ing to live with the virus ac­tu­ally amount to? Un­til a vac­cine pro­tects us, that’s the un­avoid­able chal­lenge we face. Now that we’ve en­tered Un­lock 1.0, it’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion pri­mar­ily be­cause I de­tect two broad and dif­fer­ent an­swers. Let’s see if you agree.

There are those who have the lux­ury to stay put at home. They se­questered be­hind closed doors at the end of March and that’s how they’ve con­tin­ued to re­main. Un­lock per­mits them to ven­ture out­doors wear­ing a mask and main­tain­ing the re­quired two-me­tre dis­tance but they’ve cho­sen not to.

They’re safe. Of that I have only a nig­gling doubt. But is this learn­ing to “live” with the virus? Frankly, if you con­vert your home into your jail, it’s a very dif­fer­ent life that you lead. Ac­tu­ally, you could say they’re liv­ing with the fear of the world out­side their closed front doors.

It’s that fear that ex­plains calls by res­i­dent wel­fare as­so­ci­a­tions not to per­mit domestic staff. At the very least this is ironic. The well-off, who travel abroad, brought the virus to In­dia but, now that it’s spread, they view the poor and dis­ad­van­taged com­pa­tri­ots as threats to their safety. So, for them, it’s be­come two In­dias — the sup­pos­edly spe­cial one at home, where no one is per­mit­ted, and the wider one out­doors, where ev­ery­one is feared and the poor are avoided.

The other an­swer to liv­ing with the virus is il­lus­trated by those who are at­tempt­ing a nor­mal life. With masks and even face shields and a con­scious at­tempt to main­tain the ad­vised twome­tre dis­tance, they’re con­fronting the virus in the hope it won’t at­tack them. But is that hope re­al­is­tic?

Masks and face shields are rel­a­tively easy to en­force but the two-me­tre dis­tance is not. Once life re­sumes, keep­ing a dis­tance, though im­por­tant, is of­ten im­pos­si­ble. Whether in of­fice or at bus stops, at the gro­cery or in a taxi, buy­ing veg­eta­bles from a street ven­dor or pick­ing up the news­pa­per, we’re of­ten just a foot apart.

So, to use a beloved col­lo­quial phrase, these peo­ple are learn­ing to live Ram bharose or Al­lah rakha.

Now, pause and con­sider if you’ve spot­ted the ob­vi­ous link be­tween the two an­swers? Fear is the other side of God. They’re two faces of the same coin. In the first case, fear en­sures some refuse to ven­ture out. Of course, they can only do this be­cause they can af­ford to stay home and not suf­fer a crip­pling loss of in­come. Eco­nomic good for­tune un­doubt­edly re­in­forces their sense of fear. The sec­ond lot has no al­ter­na­tive but to go back to work. Re­main­ing at home is not an al­ter­na­tive. Nei­ther their in­comes nor the size of their homes will per­mit it. They bear the risk they face in the hope it won’t hap­pen to them. That’s an­other term for God.

Un­for­tu­nately, epi­demi­o­log­i­cal pro­jec­tions will only re­in­force the paralysing fear or the des­per­ate hope that de­ter­mines the re­sponse to the virus. In­dia is al­ready third largest in term of daily in­creases, fourth largest both in terms of to­tal cases and the num­ber of reg­is­tered daily deaths, and ninth-largest in terms of to­tal fa­tal­i­ties. There are even ex­perts who say we could have 200 mil­lion in­fec­tions by Septem­ber and the peak will only be reached in mid-Novem­ber.

So, I ask my­self, could we end up di­vided be­tween those who live with fear and those who live in hope? I know the vast ma­jor­ity is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory — prob­a­bly over 90% — but, even so, could we end up two dif­fer­ent coun­tries?

We’re al­ready di­vided by re­li­gion, re­gion, caste, cui­sine, eth­nic­ity and colour. Now, will the coro­n­avirus virus di­vide us by the way we choose to live with it? Be­tween the rich who bolt their doors and keep the rest of the coun­try out­side and those who have no choice but to min­gle and ad­just, pray­ing all the while God will pro­tect them?

BIPLOV BHUYAN/HT

Cit­i­zens are torn be­tween paralysing fear and des­per­ate hope. This will only get re­in­forced

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