The Novel Coronavirus and the Fragility of Human Life and Society

coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing are real, but can we deny compassion and empathy in these times?

The humankind is living through a crisis of immense proportion caused by the outbreak of a highly contagious novel coronavirus. An invisible entity has wreaked havoc on human lives and created a situation of panic all across the globe. The pandemic has forced large parts of the world to go into lockdown, a terrible standstill defines human existence in these times. There are more than a million infections and thousands of deaths across the world due to this virus. Mightiest of western nations seem helpless against the novel coronavirus. Time seems to have stopped and the only human ambition is to just survive this ‘time of coronavirus’. These unprecedented events that have unfolded so rapidly in the past couple of months provoke me to reflect on the nature of our existence and the nature of societies in which we live.

The global crisis like the one we are facing apart from all the damage it causes to human life and society has great revealing power, it has revealed the fragility of life and uncertainty of our existence in modern society. The promise of modernity to usher an age of human control and safety seems like an illusion that arrogant human race created for itself. The thesis of permanence and predictability on which modern science and by extension modern society has been premised suddenly feels standing on shaky ground. All the advancement in science/technology and societal organization to ensure human safety seems to be inadequate in the face of the present crisis. Social scientists like Ulrich Beck had warned us about the ‘risk society’ that the juggernaut of modernity has been able to actualize. Also, risks are not limited by time and place in present times. Pneumonia like disease originating in China soon engulfs the entire world and its impact will not just affect our present but also our future. The entire system of safety that we relied so heavily upon appears as an empty box of promises.

Coronavirus pandemic has gripped the entire world and it seems to be universal, however, its impact would be unequally distributed throughout the world. Ulrich Beck in one of his writings in 1992 argued that “the history of risk distribution shows that, like wealth, risks adhere to the class pattern, only inversely, wealth accumulates at the top, risks at the bottom”. Similarly, the ability of different nations to deal with the novel coronavirus differs significantly. The wealthier nations would sooner or later manage to control the outbreak but for poorer African and Asian nations, the lack the resources to deal with the pandemic could be catastrophic. In such a scenario, we need increased global solidarity combined with increased resource and information sharing to tackle the pandemic. How international relations unfold during the crisis would define the course of international relations in times to come. Display of care and solidarity towards nations who are suffering would usher a new age of global solidarity and cooperation, however, selfish behaviour displayed during these dark times by various countries would make nations drift further away from each other.

The response against the novel coronavirus exhibited by various nations also reveals the nature of those nations. Indian prime minister announced a 21-day lockdown on 24th March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country. While the lockdown was on the expected lines as an important step to stop the spread of a highly contagious disease, the government’s indifference and apathy towards millions of informal migrant workers who were forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their home filled me with rage. The invisibility of millions of informal migrant workers on whose labour Indian cities runs while making emergency policies to fight the outbreak was humiliating for this section of the population. Besides, middle-class populations in the cities saw them as carriers of the virus when they thronged at various bus stations in the hope of reaching their home. The apathy shown by the more privileged fellow citizens towards them displayed the brutal inequality that defines life in India. The government forced the poor migrant labourers to display their daily survival skills in the national highways of the that criss-cross the country while privileged shouted aloud from their social media accounts about the ‘uncivil’ crowds of migrant workers. When historians write about the present crisis in future, they would be aghast at the injustice and cruelty that marked this period. 

The fear of coronavirus and the anger regarding the treatment meted out to the poor and disprivileged during this lockdown defined my mental space, suddenly news report of Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi as the hotspot of novel Coronavirus started to pour in from all mediums. The fact of the matter was that there was an event organised at the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin in Delhi between 13th to 15th March which was attended by guests from multiple countries, many from Malaysia and Indonesia. It was found that some of the people who attended the Jamaat carried coronavirus. The government started locating all those who attended the event at the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters.

The organizers of the event displayed utter irresponsibility and stupidity to organize an event like that during such a time. They unknowingly endangered the lives of many who attended the event and many others. They should be condemned by all sections of the Indian population and punished under the law. However, what followed was a media trial and propaganda war with accusations on Tablighi Jamaat of deliberately spreading the virus. Soon, the Tablighi Jamaat was equated with the entire Indian Muslim community who wanted to deliberately infect people with some evil intention. Terms like ‘Corona Jihad’ and ‘Corona Terrorism’ were flooding social media. The spread of coronavirus was now blamed on the evil intentions of the Muslims. Fake videos and pictures where Muslims were being projected as deliberately trying to spread the virus started circulating in Whatsapp groups.

Hindu majoritarian India found the cause of the spread of the novel coronavirus in India among the ‘demonised other’ Muslims. It was only a matter of time when Muslims were scapegoated for any kind of problem facing the country in present times. Hindutva dominated India strives on projecting all the evil plaguing the country on the Muslims. The coronavirus outbreak and particularly the unfortunate Tablighi Jamaat incident provided another such opportunity for advocates of Hindutva to humiliate Muslims and paint them as morally degraded.

In times of crisis, when we need our society to display solidarity and care for fellow members we seem to be much more divided than ever. The politics of fear that has been propagated by adherents of Hindutva has created a society defined by mistrust and hate which is getting exacerbated during times of crisis. 

The Coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a difficult challenge for mankind and has already caused much damage. COVID-19 outbreak could potentially inflict long-lasting political, economic and social changes. The present crisis and response to tackle the crisis has revealed the fragility of human life and also multiple injustices that define our collective existence. International relations based on the universality of humanity and societal relations defined by love and care for fellow members are necessary for our collective survival. Display of hate and bigotry would mean our collective failure. The only thing that humankind needs the most to overcome this crisis is humanity itself.  

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