Hope and Despair, both in the air

Hope and Despair, both in the air

Irfan Gul

Today the world is completely different from what it was before the coronavirus outbreak in China in December 2019 and its subsequent spread to countries around the world. The situation is reminiscent of the popular lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”.
The novel coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation. Words like quarantine, isolation, and restrictions have gained currency. The whole world is under lockdown even though this is not a law and order problem. Nobody is opposing the lockdown because their own life is at stake.
The coronavirus has shattered the myth of human invincibility. Sure, we have built buildings and bridges, roads and railways, ports and planes, but today we are completely helpless and totally vulnerable in the face of this adversity. The virus has made us realise how fragile we are. Our lives today resemble an eerie dream, over which looms the nightmare of death.
The economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic has been immensely disruptive. Many businesses such as hospitality, travel and tourism, insurance, and e-commerce have been severely hit. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated that the economic decline is “far worse” than that of the Great Recession in 2009. The World Bank and credit-rating agencies have downgraded India’s growth for fiscal year 2021, the figures for India beign the lowest in three decades since India’s economic liberalisation in the 1990s.
When we look at the coercive and extreme measures taken by countries to protect their citizens from the novel virus, it appears as if humans are dying only of the virus, when the fact is that humans have been dying much more from other causes. Isn’t the life of an individual important when it is at risk from hunger, poverty, violence, wars, etc? Why is it that none of these have evoked a similar response from those at the helm of affairs? Are the lives of people dying from hunger, poverty, and violence not important? The answer to this question has become increasingly clear in recent days. We know that the virus does not discriminate. It attacks people irrespective of caste, religion, status, or political affiliation. This is one of those rare moments when the elites around the world feel the heat of the threat as much as the “commoners”. They are rattled and desperate to avoid the virus with everything at their disposal – power, money, connections, and a brutal lockdown which has huge economic repercussions. Poverty and hunger, on the other hand, attack selectively. Why would this bias bother the elites? Violence, war, strikes also often affect only the most oppressed and helpless. Just like the coronavirus, these too are man-made but no extraordinary measures have ever been taken to check them. The global response towards any humanitarian crisis is always influenced by who is affected or dying. We are aware of the stark differences in the world’s response between a catastrophe in the pre-coronavirus world and the current one.
The lockdown makes us realise how intrinsic freedom and liberty are to human life. In the current situation, we value what we almost took for granted earlier. We now understand what a blessing freedom was. The freedom to move outdoors, the freedom to eat what one wanted, to go wherever one wanted, to hang out with friends. Freedom is indeed what makes life beautiful. How we miss it!
On a lighter note, the continuous state of lockdown has made us forget what a ‘Sunday’ looked like. Being at home was reserved for Sundays, but now we are working from home Monday to Saturday. At home we have everything and yet it is so monotonous and uninspiring. That tells us how much our productive strength comes from being free.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has also shed light on the capability of the world’s healthcare systems. Developed nations are struggling to deal with the ever-rising number of those infected. The health situation in New York, which is home to some of the best hospitals and has a large concentration of doctors, specialists, and hospital beds, is under deep stress with many hospitals resorting to what they call rationing care. The best medical systems were utterly unprepared for unforeseen emergencies such as this one. Now, arrangements are being made in a hurried manner with little to no regard for quality. All this begets another question – in times when governments outdid each other in expanding their defence budgets and acquiring nuclear arsenal, did it not occur to them that perhaps spending money on saving people’s lives would be a better investment to make? How can we fight the enemy outside when we cannot fight the enemies residing in our bodies? Access to healthcare is still a distant dream in many countries. It is an established fact that many nations spend more on military than healthcare. Governments today are resorting to crowdfunding to deal with the crisis.
We may have reached the moon and Mars, but that does not make us invincible. At the end of the day, we are mere mortals who have been brought to their knees by this affliction. It has made the mighty look ordinary, be it China, Spain, Italy, or the United States of America.
At the onset of this decade, who knew what it held in store for us. Every news report now is less comforting than the previous, and there’s no end in sight. While this pandemic has shown our defencelessness and feebleness, we are also addicted to hope and faith. We are sure that we will be able to put this behind us. When we come out of this, a new world order will emerge that will see us change, the institutions change, and the governments change, hopefully, into something better.

The writer works for Pratham Education Foundation as State Associate MME (Measurement, Monitoring and Evaluation) in Jammu and Kashmir. [email protected]

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