Dual challenges facing the nation
India can assume a strangely schizophrenic character at times. A few days ago, in response to the prime minister’s appeal, citizens had gathered on their balconies banging pots and pans to salute, in a rather unconventional way, the hardship and sacrifices of personnel battling the coronavirus pandemic. The public veneration of doctors, healthcare staff, delivery executives and other members of the corps that constitute India’s essential services has, unfortunately, proved to be rather transient. Medical professionals affiliated to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences were forced to seek the intervention of the home minister after receiving numerous complaints of landlords forcibly evicting or ostracizing doctors and other staff fearing contagion. Aviation personnel have been at the receiving end of this kind of prejudice for their heroic role in evacuating citizens stranded on foreign shores. Meanwhile, in spite of numerous assurances, the media are facing a different kind of discrimination, with a number of housing complexes refusing to receive newspapers on account of unsubstantiated fears. The police have wielded the stick — quite literally — on those providing essential supplies, forcing the chief minister of Bengal to intervene. Ordinary, healthy citizens are in a state of perpetual anxiety, given the confusion over directives. Chores necessary to survive — be it stepping out to purchase food and medicine or taking the ailing and infirm to hospitals — are proving to be rather Herculean. Meanwhile, the lack of financial and food security continues to undermine the well-being of the vast, often invisible, unorganized sector. The finance minister’s financial package, it is hoped, would alleviate their sufferings.
The inconvenience can be attributed to the poor preparation on the part of the administration. The lockdown, although necessary, was imposed quite suddenly without much thought given to the situation on the ground. This is typical of the ad hocism that plagues India’s administrative and political imagination. India should have studied, as early as January, what other nations — China being a case in point — are doing to ease the impact of lockdowns on people. The corona pandemic lays bare the multiple dimensions of a crisis such as this. The lives of patients must be saved and the spread of the contagion checked. The healthy, too, warrant caring, albeit of a different kind.