In spite of all our personal introspection, mindfulness and self-awareness practices, it is during moments of the deep crisis that the self-realization takes on a different dimension.
This enforced COVID 19 lockdown has kept many things in control but flushed out many things as well. It has kept the pollution in check. It is a pleasure to have fewer cars in the streets because you realize that roads are made for people and not for steel. After a very long time, we can actually see the butterflies and hear the birds chirp. It could well be that earlier we did not pause to notice this. We are forced to eat only what we need rather than whatever we see. We had become way too consumeristic and today we realize that much of what we bought, we can well do without. The question to ask is, will our greed ever be fully controlled in good times or bad?
The current disastrous phenomena in our lives have also flushed out much from the woodwork of our minds. Terms such as migrant labourers, slums dwellers, and daily-wage earners are nomenclatures that we have heard in passing but not paid much attention to, because they were irrelevant in our lives. They continue to be today as well. They are just gaunt faces staring out of the TV screens. Even the ragged handkerchief on their face that replaces the prescribed mask cannot hide the anguish in their eyes. While we complain about being confined to our homes because of the lockdown these people don’t have a home. Their landlords have thrown them out of their meager dwellings because of nonpayment of rent and right now they have nowhere to go. Several thousand of the 360 million migratory labourers we have in our country have now been flushed out into the streets. These grey images of people are those that have been living in lost identities all these years, staying in holes that have no address and sometimes no doors. They are slowly creeping out of these holes because of the Corona and want to die a dignified death at home. They have been flushed out of their anonymity and are screaming for the human rights that should have been theirs.
This reverse migration that we are witnessing today is flushing out how flawed our economic reforms have been. A few economists in the past have prescribed economic reforms that shifted the focus to urban development at the cost of agriculture and farming. Our films have romanticized the “quick rich” syndrome in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and other metros. So our migrant labour has become victims of economic reforms that look at rapid infrastructure growth that requires cheap labour and benami mazdoor. This is the time of reckoning for us to understand what we have done so far and continue to do. A large percentage of our population do not count and are not accounted for. They are not the trendy start-ups or the employment producers, and yet they are the backbone of most manufacturing and a part of the delivery system. This is the time to look at how we can protect the small landholdings some of the migrant workers have back in the villages and help them with sustainable farming methods so that they never need to return back to the cities and live in slums.
These days when our daily help and maids are unable to serve our homes we realize how important they are in our lives. They too have been flushed out. They have an identity and have a family behind them. Mothers need to be released to attend their children’s parent-teacher meetings even if it is just in the government schools. They too need to be given Vitamins to build up their immunity to fight against illnesses. They too have their bad days when something has gone wrong at home. Years of deprivation and poverty have numbed some of their emotions but let us not forget those famous words from Shakespeare “if you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
Another thing that has been flushed out is why people do what they do. There have been many initiatives that have started to feed the poor. They are responding to the horrific stories they see and hear about starvation. Many of us have not seen scarcity before. We are fortunate enough not to have experienced a war that has affected our rations, rampant outbreak of cholera, plague, and famine. Stories of fear and genuine empathy have prompted many to respond with plans to ramp up big machinery of feeding programs. The planners have never been confined to their homes this way earlier and want to feel involved and useful. Their intentions are right and their skills and connections are extremely valuable. The problem begins when they begin to think of brand exposure and publicity. Suddenly they become CEOs of the operation and many a time forget the risks that the front-runners, those that are actually distributing the food or provisions are exposing themselves to. NGOs are great at knowing where the need exists and how to access it. They are not necessarily good at combatting the boardroom power tactics. And so many times it is the poor, the actual beneficiaries that get affected. In moments of such a crisis that we face today, our priorities and purposes have to change.
What also has been flushed out is which government corporator is in touch with his/her community. In the process of distributing food and provisions to the slum dwellers, we find that in some areas the local MLAs have been distributing rations to the community ever since the troubles began. And there are some constituencies that have been totally neglected. We also got to know which employers have discharged their employees and have taken advantage of this crisis of not even paying their dues. The common refrain is that their business has stalled and they are unable to pay. The driver who drives their car is not just a pair of hands behind the steering wheel but a person with needs and a family behind. This realization needs to come soon.
These days of the Corona crisis provide a great eye-opener and learning module of social dynamics, economic status, societal priorities, and personal motives. These moments flush out both the good and the bad and we must learn from it all.