Hyderabad: A crisis brings out the best and the worst in us. The Corona lockdown has done that. Not only that, but the crisis has also held up a mirror to us, showing both the good and bad in us.
The best came out from among us as we showed kindness in thousands of ways to the less privileged fellow citizens: donated part of our savings, donated our time and worked to bring some succour to the less fortunate, shared their suffering, shook awake the powers-that-be to the distress of the poor and so on. A lot of us sat back and were content with empathizing with the images on our TV screens and newspapers of half-naked old men shedding tears, women carrying their meagre belongings on their heads or in hands, toddlers perched on their father’s shoulders as he trudged in the summer sun, hundreds of miles to try and reach his home as work and livelihood dried up in cities.
The worst came from the ruling BJP party, its leaders both in the government and outside, and exposed their thinking which has been singularly cruel. Their indifference to the poor during these times of distress, their brazen ignoring of the needs of the millions of migrant workers and their unapologetic preference for attending to the needs of the middle class, shows the true colours of the Hindutva thinking.
All through the last six years of rule of the Narender Modi led BJP government, since it was first elected in 2014, it has been more than clear that the poor figure last in the list of priorities of the government whether it was demonetization or watering down of the MNREGA, or indifference to the agrarian crisis across the country. The Covid-19 crisis has once proved that this government is not just callous towards the poor but is anti-poor.
The same mentality was at work right through the lockdown period. For instance, announcing of the lockdown with very little notice given, refusing to make any policy decision regarding the stranded migrant workers, then announcing that trains would be run to take the workers to home provided the poor bore with the cost of the ticket, withdrawing trains as in Karnataka at the behest of the real estate lobby that was worried that it will lose cheap labour, and the latest tragedy of 16 migrant labourers being run over by goods train in Maharashtra as they rested their aching bodies on the rail tracks having walked several kilometres trying to reach their home in the neighbouring state. They thought that since the trains had stopped plying they were safe but they did not know that there was no bar on freight trains and were run over in their sleep.
This authoritarian government is a colonial government and does not represent the average citizen of this country and that is the poor citizen. The government is colonial because it does not work for the growth and welfare of the average citizen. It believes in exploiting them, like the colonialists. It is depriving the poor, the forest-dweller, the marginal farmer of the resources that should belong to them according to the Constitution. The government’s main agenda is to safeguards the rich, work to further increase the wealth of its masters, exploit the poor, and after the poor worker/farmer has served the purpose of the government and its overlords, abandon them to their fate. The colonial government did just this for the 200 years of its rule and left India shattered economically. The ‘natives’ could be ignored because they were lesser people than the white people; their lives were so cheap that their suffering was not worth noticing; there were so many of them that it did not matter if a few millions died from hunger (as in the infamous Bengal famine in the late 1700s). Just as the colonial rulers followed a ruthless economic agenda in the colonized India that gave no space for concern for the ‘natives’, this BJP government has no space for empathy for its toiling, hungry, under-paid, and uncared for a citizenry that includes the poor, the minorities and the disadvantaged.
Today, democracy in our country is slowly mutating into an authoritarian, anti-citizen, anti-intellectual, bigoted, regressive institution where rights and freedoms, are being undermined. No longer is democracy is by the people, for the people, of the people. People are not people. They are being rendered powerless, slowly, step by step. Some of them are being marginalised after being demonized as the ‘other’. Yet others are being treated as dispensable.
So who will protest when protesters are being jailed? Who will raise their voice when such voices are being suppressed? Who will lead when the leaders are being targeted? Who will uphold democracy when democratic institutions like media and the judiciary are being silenced?
Each of us has to ponder over our unhealthy situation and find answers. But one thing is clear. This kind of situation is not healthy for us, its people. The lack of empathy being fostered in us, the hatred, the prejudice, the intolerance, the bigotry will turn us into such people that the following generations will be ashamed of us and our cowardice. Let’s not fall so low that we fall in our own eyes. Let us all speak up, uphold our Constitution, hold out a hand of love to all our fellow Indians, and show empathy for those less privileged than us.