A burning sword divides India. It is scorching clear. The great exodus of daily wagers churned up and exposed the biggest divide that lays buried and ignored by most of us. It is not the Hindu-Muslim divide. It is not Right-wingers versus Left. It is the 70 percent (70 PC) versus the 30 percent (30 PC). Us versus Them.Images of daily wagers suddenly without daily salaries trying to return to their homes exposed the great chasm. We know, but we do not live it on a daily basis. They exist at a subterranean level. The declaration of the lockdown did not take them into account. Because who even thinks of those who live in the subterrestrial?
Prime Minister Modi had enough of a conscience to acknowledge his mistake and asked for forgiveness. Rare in a politician. But it has to be pointed out that he neglected to plan for the 70 PC because he is now part of the privileged, powerful 30 PC. Crisis leadership is not a simple thing and it is when the true character of a leader is exposed.
Arwind Kejriwal may have made provisions for shelter and food for them but was the message communicated to them? It’s like organising a party for thousands and neglecting to send invitations. How were they supposed to know? As we are inundated with recorded messages on how to pay our bills online, how to stop the disease, was there a message informing them about the shelters? Could they have announced it at the bus terminals? If they had known, would there have been such an exodus? No wages, no food, landlords turning them out — they panicked and decided to leave.
70 PC of India lives in the rural belt. Forty-five percent of the working force in India is daily wagers. On the fourth day of the lockdown, the thousands crowded around bus terminals rendered the social distancing lockdown useless, exposing themselves to contagion and then spreading the disease in rural areas in different parts of the country. This is even more disturbing since access to proper medical care there is dismal.
Images of the workers being sprayed with disinfectant brought forth more outrage. It was disconcerting that it was not the act of spraying but the lack of reaction as they sat there without protest, helpless, accepting the ignominy as a norm in their lives. Generational precedence of decisions taken for them over which they have no control is ingrained in their genes. They just sat there, staring vacantly.
In any crisis, whether it is wartime, the Emergency or a pandemic, the true character of people surfaces. This is when traitors, cowards and matlabis rise to the top like scum. During the freedom struggle, there were historically documented traitors who worked against their own country while gaining benefits from the British. In the wars India has fought, I recall whispers of the few gutless ones who abandoned a battle. They were subsequently ostracised and suspended. During the Emergency, there were a small percentage of people, mainly politicians, social activists and journalists, who stood up against it and suffered. The majority of the nation, including the judiciary, actively supported it or did nothing. And the majority usually does nothing.
In this pandemic, we can see who the warriors are and who are living in their own self-obsessed bubble. Where will your conscience lead you? It is our startling existential crisis and a gifted opportunity.
There are many heroes. Incredible numbers from the 30 PC are busy organising food, funds, masks, ventilators, protective gear, and testing kits. They are bringing their expertise and efficiency in industry and in all their fields to join the battle.
But the suddenness and speed of the disease has caught us unprepared. There have been WhatsApp posts of people in the worst conditions imaginable in isolation centres, which are basically just empty rooms. Filthy toilets, no nurses or doctors, open windows with no screens allowing mosquitoes to fill the rooms. Is it any wonder that people are running away from these terrible places?
And then we have posts like this one.
Dr Maroli is part of the 30 PC. She had access to get her x-rays done immediately. She mentions that she managed to get admitted to a hospital “after paperwork”. Did she expect to be admitted without paperwork?
She writes, “The protocols to treat covid suspects were being established as I entered.” Unlikely, because the hospital had already successfully treated and discharged 14 Italian patients and four Indians. Her discomfort caused by the antibiotics is understandable. But do the doctors have a choice if they want to rid her of the disease?
Dr Maroli’s samples were sent to Rohtak as stipulated by the government. Her results were expected two days later since that’s how long it takes to process. However, they had not been processed because of the backlog the facility was dealing with. Are ordinary peoples’ samples less important? Can VIPs or the privileged jump the queue?
When she was informed of the delay, she writes, “I howled away until the doctor consoled me that we will resend the samples again this time through Lalpaths. My sample was collected on 26th. I was told I wont [sic] get my report until 28th.”
Well, that’s how long it takes.
Dr Karoli writes, “The government doesn’t give a damn about its doctors. What are they waiting for? For me to die of respiratory complications or be put on a ventilator before they can process my sample?” Meanwhile, she is being treated in a hospital where you can see she is in pristine, beautiful surroundings and even a window with a view.
Dr Karoli is furious with the government for not sending hospitals and labs testing kits. Testing kits have to be sourced, tested and then delivered. It’s not done with a flick of a wrist or magic.
Dr Karoli writes, “I am still in isolation. The stigma associated with this disease is real. Nobody wants to visit this floor.” Dr Karoli, it is not that nobody wants to visit you. They are not allowed to visit you. You are on an isolation floor.
In this whole tirade, the doctors get three lines of gratitude from Dr Karoli and none for the nurses or other staff. She did, however, post pictures with heartfelt thanks to the doctors and nurses.
In the comments section, one person wrote, “Pathetic state of affairs, indeed! If ths b d highly callous state of affairs at ths nascent stage with us Indians hvng no evn .05% rate, I dread thinking how we as a nation wl end up…(sic)”
The 30 PC expects and demands.
The dentist then ends with her test report from Rohtak where her hysteria now ends. After speaking to the doctor from Rohtak, she writes, “The volume that they receive every day is overwhelming and they have been working round the clock to ensure samples are reported.” So what was all that howling about?
Compare it to posts made by coronavirus patients from India and around the world, filled with courage, hope, inspiration and gratitude. This just turns out to be a privileged whiner who is completely unaware what the country is going through and how tough it is for the 70PC suffering without any facilities to test, isolate or get treated.
Doctors, nurses, hospitals are struggling the world over. In the US, makeshift hospitals are being set up in tents, stadiums and parks. There is an acute shortage of masks, ventilators and protective gear, many being forced to use garbage bags. In the US they are even hooking two to three patients on one ventilator, which defies all medical protocols, when each patient needs a different level of pressure. In Brooklyn, forklifts are being used to lift dead bodies into refrigerated trucks. Everyone is on jugaad mode. Images of patients lying on floors in Italian hospitals are now common.
The Indian government and those running hospitals are working round the clock to purchase all that is required, dealing with shortages, substandard items and scalpers demanding prices that defy all ethics at this time.
Compare Dr Karoli’s post to journalist Ananya Bhattacharya's in Safdarjung Hospital. It’s all in the attitude.
Please observe how people like us can behave.
While all of this was going on, the urban population of 30 PC was obsessed with how to pass time in confinement. While the majority of journalists were risking their lives covering stories in the field, some television channels were catering to the 30PC — lifestyle meditation kriya gurus, playing antakshari, cooking, etc.
Our celebrities could contribute hugely and many have. This is where the divide surfaces between the self obsessed and the socially aware. Out of the thousands in the film industry, the few who have made donations stand out. Akshay Kumar is notable not only for his big-hearted donation but also for using his celebrity to make meaningful videos with useful messages. There were others who were also right on the button.
Akshay Kumar’s strong message.
Shah Rukh Khan advises on Covid-19 using clips from his own movies.
Kartik Aaryan singing about staying at home.
Varun Dhawan’s song about the lockdown.
Bollywood stars in the #WarAgainstVirus.
And the best one was from Farah Khan, calling out her own industry.
The talented and beautiful Deepika Padukone was nominated by World Health Organisation for the #SafeHands challenge but proceeded to post a video of herself washing her hands incorrectly.
On one TV channel, an expert was asked what his suggestions were to celebrities on what they should do in this pandemic? His answer was: “I would ask them to shut up”. The flood of self-pitying videos of washing dishes, cooking, cleaning and self-promoting workout videos, are cringe inducing.
Here’s Anushka Sharma giving Virat Kohli a haircut.
Malaika Arora cooking food.
Katrina doing dishes.
Katrina sweeping the floor.
Kartik Aaryan doing dishes.
Kartik Aaryan on working from home.
Ananya Pandey dressing up for quarantine.
Katrina and Shilpa sharing workouts.
Dino Moreo working out.
Sidharth Malhotra working out during the lockdown.
Sara Ali Khan’s workout.
Deepika's "being productive" series.
Deepika massaging her face.
It reminds me of a Bollywood film where a once wealthy thakurani is reduced to poverty and is sweeping the floor. Her old loyal servant (not domestic help) comes and grabs the broom from her hand, exclaiming, “Bibiji, aap aur yeh kaam? Kabhi nahin!”
I watched it when I was a teenager and my instinctive reaction was: why is it so bad to sweep and clean your house? Bollywood has reinforced these class differentiators and lack of respect for menial jobs.
When a school in Delhi had “sweeping the classroom” as a punishment, I went to speak to the teacher. I pointed out to her that you are teaching the children that sweeping is demeaning when children in many parts of the world are taught to clean their classrooms as a normal way to respect their workplace. I could not get through to her. She kept insisting that it was a good punishment and would teach the children a lesson.
Which brings us to the question: how do we view the people who do these jobs for us? They are the invisible beings. Not to be acknowledged or respected. Only to be noticed when they are missing from doing our menial work. Is it then any wonder that nobody in government thought of them before the lockdown was issued?
This “samandar manthan” has brought out the worst and best in us. It has also laid bare the compelling imperative importunate that in the long run, unless the 70 PC are not provided with elemental necessities — education, health care, sanitation, decent homes, and Respect — nothing will ever work.
Right now, the 70 PC and 30 PC are two different countries. How can we function as one nation if the schism is so deep and humongous? How do you change privileged behaviour to more compassionate, respectful mores? Let’s appeal then to the selfish gene — do it for your own survival before it gets violent.
When we 30 PC accept: it is not about Me. It is about Them. Then it evolves into Us.