COVID Greetings from Ahmedabad to dear Mentors and Friends from around the World,

Prof. dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava

I hope you are keeping well and taking care of yourself besides caring for the people around you. I’m writing to learn how is science and society coping with the prevention and cure of the pandemic. I’m also writing to share the state of the coronavirus that is further complicated with the long-standing class and communal viruses.

We are under complete lockdown for over ten days now which also means work from home.While most of you know me more as a travel enthusiast, I like to share that my days other than travelling are mostly work from home for many years now. The knack for work from home is coming up handy now as my living and working aren’t affected much unlike many except that the travel schedules are cancelled until the May. So, I’m doing good and busy as usual capitalising the time in completing some of the writings and hobbies besides, the routine academic assignments pertaining to Final Year Theses (as this year I’ve 7 students to guide and 26 students to mentor) of Bachelor of Architecture and Planning. I’m sure you are also making the best use ofthis time besides taking time out for retrospection and introspection. Here are some thoughts.

However, as a concerned citizen I’m not good because my country is not doing good. While the science and part of the society are trying to prevent and cure the spread of the corona, the prevailing negative forces of class and communal (now seem like viruses) are more affecting in this time amidst with the poor governance of all the three. In India the doctor people ratio is 1:1500 and there are approximately 20,000 hospitals with having approximately 7,00,000 beds. As of now, there are 3000+ COVID cases identified and 70+ deaths. Thus, looking at the population and governance, the medical measures seem commendable besides, the fact that the immunity and the weather comes in supportive. While the mortality from hunger remains the same as before, the cases of traffic accidents, rape, and other violence (though there is no info on them) have reduced in the lock-down period. Such stats are good to remain positive while wishing to remain corona negative. Deep gratitude remains for all those who are devoted to the cause!

Following the sudden (at just four hours’ notice) and total lock down, the long-existing class virus in the country surfaced alongside and stronger than ever. While the middle/upper class had immediately and comfortably put themselves inside the houses following the social-physical distancing by work from home; a large section of the country’s population comprising of the urban poor (migrants) found themselves on the roads wanting to leave the cities and return to their villages after the declaration of the lockdown with a notice period of 4 hours only. Immediately after the lock down announcement, thousands of urban migrant workers rushed (rather gathered with no social-physical distancing) to the transport hubs to return to their villages but, alas! only to find that the buses and trains are all stopped too in the lock down. It pushed me to relook at the classic historical novel of 1956, ‘Train to Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh about the exodus during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 post-independence from the Britishers; and learn that the current state of the urban to rural exodus seems to be worse than the exodus during the partition time, especially if one looks at it through the development of the country in 70 years and yet the absence of strategy to support the poor people with transport as well as essentials while keeping the social-physical distancing. Amidst this uncertainty, several urban poor dared walking to their villages and thinking of that walk length of 200 to even 1000 kilometres is itself horrifying let alone doing it, but hats off to them that they could dared to rather they were pushed to that panic to make that choice. Later, when the buses (surprisingly not trains) were arranged to bring the people to the villages, the people were packed into them like the livestock transportation, for example, a bus with 100 people inside and 50 on the roof of the bus. Then there are some who are even stopped from returning and are brought to camps made at schools/night shelters with meagre precautions on social-physical distancing due to overcrowding and poor preparation with the essentials. They are going to live in this situation for the lock down period. While the peoples’ exodus via walking or transporting saw some extraordinary humanitarian gestures from the ngos, locals and individuals and government in providing them essentials, the atrocities by few government officials, especially the policemen punishing instead of protecting are concerning and devaluing the efforts made by the others. Nevertheless, it is heartening to hear that several of the returnees have reached their homes in villages and towns while some had to succumb to the hardships. Their struggles may not be over yet. With the strong stigma socio-economic surrounding reverse migration, the returnees may be haunted with the daunting issues of employment, acceptance besides exclusion for the time being for social-physical distancing. So, on the one hand, the government lacked enough preparedness, strategy and more seriously empathy for the poor; and on the other hand the poor people defied the government orders amidst ignorance and loss of trust on the urban society despite the government screaming from the top of its voice about its care provisions. What is hurting most is that the corona virus which is more of an upper/middle class affair in the country got mixed up with the class virus already existing making the poor people, the most affected lot.

After a week of the lock down when the corona cum class viruses were causing havoc, the Disaster Management Act (2205) is implemented on April 1st to regulate the corona news that were heavily supplemented with the class news. So, now most of the news of the class exodus evaporated from all types of media. And suddenly since couple of days most of the news on communal virus has resurfaced with pointing one community as the source of corona in the country. The communal conflict since was fresh before the arrival of corona because of the proposed (now postponed) Citizenship Amendment Act and the implemented Jammu-Kashmir lock down since August2019, its spread now is way too faster to bring back the hatred between the people across the class and unfortunately even between the people in the family and the friends. The narrative of social media too changed overnight after the implementation of the Act and hence we are back to the pre-covid state of communal tensions. The communal virus has divided the people of different religious faiths and ideological differences for over a century already, but its infection within the living and working places in this lock down period is extremely difficult to cope with especially, when we are flooded with communal information to read/hear/view that are sensitive to trigger hatred and angst. Also, because the strong identity of the majority population that transcends the class are endorsing the communal angle to corona, people like me who defy any religious inclination are the new minority as well as vulnerable. Ironically and interestingly, the corona after arriving in India found a religious identity for itself. We are Amazing here in India!

Coming towards the end of my letter, it is crucial to keep you updated also on two crucial laws that were passed before the arrival of the corona in the country, the National Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for preventive detention in certain cases and prevention of unlawful activities; which in other words mean that, anyone can now be arrested on the basis of suspicion of doing anti-national activity. What is that anti-national activity, however that will be at the discretion of the administration. These Acts with the latest one may now be used strategically in case of dissent from individuals, activists, ngos and media like before. It is puzzling to realize that a medical emergency seems to have turned into an administrative emergency in the country. I’ve to say with a heavy heart that the leaderships alone cannot be blamed for all these as the leadership reflects, We the People. This is where the most saddening and surprising part lie, when the majority (including family and friends) population with high education and spiritual/religious inclinations endorse the need for class and communal divisions stating a belief that the superior may prevail and that the others (class-community) must peril. It is more puzzling, that if we have advanced by learning from the mistakes of the past centuries’ socio-economic unrests, why would we (collective majority) wish to change (scrap) the diverse social landscape to a make a New India. One may defend it as Darwinism but, imagining the coming together of these three viruses itself is scary and serious! Some of us feel that this is coming since, amidst the fear of an unknown virus, the known viruses are forced to overlay the unknown. We also feel that repeating history may cost humanity, a fortune. 

I’ll end my letter here with a faith in science as it is certain that the scientists will find a way for prevention and cure from the corona virus. It is also certain that the memories of the corona virus will fade away like the zika, sars viruses of the yesteryears. However, the long-standing class and communal viruses with no signs of diminishing but more signs of devastations for the democracy, development and humanity make many of us feel helpless. Since, this will haunt and daunt the growth of this beautiful civilization that I’m proud of and leave the wounds in our minds and hearts forever. I wrote this letter for you to know that, though my expressions here are depressing in the state of physical fitness and emotional illness, my position to stand for right and righteousness is strengthening every day. Since, you know me as a person, I believe you will understand that many things are not expressed since there is a global phenomenon now where the social-communal colours are veiled to counter the rising economic crisis. 

It is quite possible that as a society we succeed in failing the mysterious unknown Corona virus. It is equally possible, and I’ll wish that we use the Corona virus as a timely (rather too late) means to succeed in failing the mainstream known Class and Communal viruses for emerging as a more Humanitarian Inclusive New India. With I thank again all those who are serving the corona as well as the class and communal issues in this difficult time. 

A big thank you for reading the letter till the end! In this social-physical distancing and work from home period, I send wishes for good health, happiness and some deep thoughts for humanity. Please pardon my long expression and English language if there are errors.

With love and care,

Mansee

(©Prof. dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava)

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